MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russia said on Monday it would send a heavily-armed nuclear-powered cruiser to the Caribbean for a joint naval exercise with Venezuela, its first major maneuvers on the United States' doorstep since the Cold War.
Russian officials denied the mission was linked to a naval standoff with U.S warships in the Black Sea, but it will take place at a time of high tension between Washington and Moscow over the conflict in Georgia.
Washington has played down the significance of the exercise.
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Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said on Monday that the naval mission to Venezuela would include the nuclear-powered battle cruiser "Peter the Great", one of the world's largest combat warships.
Moscow's most modern destroyer, the "Admiral Chabanenko", will also steam to the Caribbean, along with other ships, including a fuel tanker, he added.
The naval exercise, to take place in November, will be backed up by an anti-submarine aircraft, based at a Venezuelan airfield, he said.
Unsurprisingly, the Navy Times reports that the Pentagon isn't terribly concerned:
The Defense Department seemed unaffected Monday by an announcement from Venezuela and Russia that Russian warships would sail to the Caribbean this winter for exercises with the Venezuelan fleet — the first-ever such move by the Russian navy.
Pentagon officials did not express particular concern over the announcement from Caracas. "We’re aware of the announcement made in Venezuela," said Navy Cmdr. J.D. Gordon, a Pentagon spokesman, "and we’ll see how it goes."
This should allow the US Atlantic Fleet plenty of opportunities to practice open-ocean tracking. I'm actually more curious as to how well the Russian ships can handle a long deployment; replenishment at sea is a tricky business, and I don't know how much practice the Russians have had over the last few years. Not to mention the minor detail that the Atlantic hurricane season lasts through the end of November.