After a spat with the US, Russian bombers in Venezuela carried out drills over the Caribbean

russia tu-160 bomberTupolev TU-160 strategic bomber performs during the first day of the MAKS-2005 international air show in Zhukovsky outside Moscow August 16, 2005.Viktor Korotayev/REUTERS

  • Russia deployed nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela earlier this week.
  • Their arrival prompted backlash from the US, which drew sharp responses from Russia and Venezuela.
  • The bombers conducted exercises over the Caribbean on Wednesday, and Russia has said they'll depart Friday.

Days after their arrival in Venezuela triggered a verbal duel between Washington and Moscow, two Russian strategic bombers carried out drills over the Caribbean Sea, Russia's defense ministry said Wednesday.

The two Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers in Venezuela "conducted a flight in the airspace over the Caribbean Sea. The flight lasted for about 10 hours," the ministry's press service said, according to state-media outlet Tass.

"In certain parts of the route, the flight of Russian bombers was conducted together with Su-30 and F-16 fighter jets of the Venezuelan National Bolivarian Military Aviation. The pilots from the two countries practiced air cooperation when fulfilling air tasks," it added.

putin russia maduro venezuelaMaxim Shemetov/Reuters

As with the flight from Russia to Venezuela, the flight over the Caribbean was "in strict accordance with international [sic] rules of using airspace," Tass said.

It is not the first time Tu-160 supersonic bombers have been to Venezuela. They visited in 2013 and in 2008. The earlier occasion came during a period of heightened tensions stoked Russia's brief war with Georgia that year.

The latest trip, which comes during heightened tensions over Russia's meddling the 2016 US election and recent clash with Ukraine, prompted sharp words from all sides.

Read more: A former top national security official says Venezuela is one of Trump's top 3 priorities - alongside Iran and North Korea

On Tuesday, Diosdado Cabello - a powerful Venezuelan official who has been accused of involvement in drug trafficking and been sanctioned by the US - mocked the "poor opposition leadership," who he said had called for foreign military intervention but became frenzied at the arrival of the Russian bombers.

"One thing is to call for the devil and other is to see him coming," Cabello said.

maduro militaryIn this June 24, 2017 file photo, Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro watching a military parade during Army Day celebrations at Fort Tiuna in Caracas, Venezuela. Maduro said on his TV show on Sunday, July 2, 2017 that he was hiking salaries 50 percent, bringing workers wages to at least 250,000 bolivars per month, or less than $35 at the black market exchange rate. It's the third wage increase this year as triple-digit inflation erodes workers' savings.AP/Fernando Llano

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also chastised Caracas and Moscow, saying on Monday that people in Russia and Venezuela "should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer."

The Pentagon also chimed in, saying that while the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro sought visits from Russian aircraft, the US was working with "regional partners and international organizations to provide humanitarian aid to Venezuelans fleeing their crisis-racked nation."

Read more: Trump is reportedly considering putting Venezuela on the state sponsors of terror list

The Organization of American States also expressed "the greatest concern" about the visit, saying it was not authorized by Venezuela's national assembly, as required by the constitution.

Venezuela and Russia responded in kind.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov called Pompeo's remarks "rather undiplomatic" and "totally inappropriate." Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Tuesday called Pompeo's comments "disrespectful," and, like Peskov, described them as "cynical" in light of the US's own military activity abroad.

Venezuela protest photoDemonstrators who are against the Venezuelan government chant outside of the Organization of American States (OAS) during the special meeting of the Permanent Council, in Washington, Monday, April 3, 2017.AP

Arreaza also said it was "outrageous" for the US to question Venezuela's defense cooperation with other countries after President Donald Trump "threatened us publicly with a military intervention," referring to Trump's references to the possibility of military action to oust Maduro.

The Trump administration has cast Venezuela as the US's most significant foe in the region and sought to isolate the Maduro government, largely through sanctions on Maduro and officials around him.

Read more: The US military's top officer says Russia and China present different challenges - but they both can rival US power

The US and other countries in the region have condemned Maduro for ongoing political strife and economic deterioration in his country - turmoil that has prompted some 3 million Venezuelans to flee, straining resources and prompting backlash in the neighboring countries that have received many of them.

On Wednesday, after speaking with Russian officials, the White House said the bombers currently in Venezuela would depart on Friday and return to Russia.

Venezuela Colombia Cucuta migrants refugeeA volunteer at the &quotDivina Providencia&quot migrant shelter distributes lunch to Venezuelan migrants, in Cucuta, Colombia, February 23, 2018. The food is cooked in several large vats, and the diocese says it offers an average of 1,000 meals a day.(AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

However, according to an unverified report in Russian daily Nezavisimaya Gazeta, cited by Tass and by Reuters, a longer-term Russian military presence in Venezuela has been discussed, in part as a response to US plans to exit the Cold War-era Intermediate Nuclear Forces treaty.

Russian officials wanted to deploy "strategic aircraft" to a Venezuelan base in the Caribbean, to which Maduro not object, according to the report. They could go a base on La Orchila island, northeast of Caracas.

Read more: The US Navy is pushing north, closer to Russia and into freezing conditions - and it plans to hang around up there

A military expert quoted by the paper said such a deployment would remove the need for those aircraft to return to Russia and for aerial refueling during "patrol missions in the Americas." The aircraft could conduct missions in the region and be replaced on a rotating basis, the expert said.

While Venezuelan law prohibits foreign military bases, military aircraft could be hosted temporarily, the Russian newspaper said.

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