The Russian government has sent a fleet of aircraft, including two nuclear-capable "Blackjack" bombers, to Venezuela reportedly for the purpose of conducting a "joint training exercise" between the two nations. So far, the Kremlin has remained mum on how long it intends to keep its military planes in the struggling South American country.
What are the details?
Russia's defense ministry announced the deployment on Monday, saying, "Two Tu-160 strategic bombers, an An-124 heavy military transport plane and an II-62 long-haul plane of the Russian aerospace forces that took off from aerodromes in Russia have landed at the Maiqueta 'Simon Bolivar' International Airport of the Venezuelan capital city."
The Guardian reported that the two countries would be using the aircraft "as part of a joint training exercise," but the Kremlin did not elaborate on how long the military planes would remain in the country, nor did it say whether or not the bombers were carrying weapons.
According to the BBC, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino explained, "This we are going to do with our friends, because we have friends in the world who defend respectful, balanced relations. We are preparing to defend Venezuela to the last inch when necessary."
The move by the Kremlin comes just days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's visit to Moscow, where the socialist leader secured $6 billion in investments and deals from Russia, its largest creditor.
How did the U.S. respond?
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed Russia's actions on Twitter, saying, "The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer."
#Russia's government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer. pic.twitter.com/bCBGbGtaHT
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 11, 2018
Pentagon spokesman Robert Manning also criticized the deployment, noting that the U.S. responded to what he referred to as a humanitarian "tragedy" in crumbling Venezuela by sending a Navy hospital ship off the coast of neighboring Colombia to provide free medical care to refugees.
"Contrast this with Russia whose approach to the man-made disaster in Venezuela is to send bomber aircraft instead of humanitarian assistance," Manning said.