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Russia says strategic bombers return to home airfield after stay in Venezuela

Air-to-air with a Tupolev Tu-160. (Vadim Savitsky/Russian Ministry of Defense)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

The Russian Defense Ministry says the nuclear-capable strategic bombers sent to Venezuela have returned to their home airfield in Russia.

“The long-range aircraft flew through the airspace over the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean, and the Norwegian and Barents Seas,” the ministry said early on December 15, according to state-run TASS news agency.

“The Tu-160 strategic bombers flew over 12,000 kilometers and refueled in the air,” it added.

The planes arrived on December 10 at an airport outside of Caracas, angering the United States and raising the concerns of the Organization of American States (OAS).

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a posting to Twitter, said that 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.”

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 11 that Pompeo’s comments were “undiplomatic” and “completely inappropriate.”

The Organization of American States (OAS) expressed the “greatest concern” about the arrival of the “aircraft capable of using nuclear weapons from Russia” on Venezuelan territory.

U.S. President Donald Trump has made public remarks about using the “military option” to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power. Maduro, without providing evidence, has accused the United States of attempting to assassinate him.

Known as Blackjacks by NATO members, the Tu-160 can fly at twice the speed of sound and is capable of carrying nuclear or conventional missiles.

The bombers’ arrival came just days after Maduro visited Moscow, seeking Kremlin support for his country, whose economy is in shambles and which is deeply in debt to Russia.

Venezuela has purchased millions of dollars in military equipment from Russia in recent years.

Oil-rich Venezuela has been racked by economic and political crises since 2010 under leftist leader Hugo Chavez and has continued into Maduro’s presidency.

Millions have fled the country, driven by violence, hyperinflation, and major shortages of food.