Navy Plans Venezuelan Exercises

Russia said Monday that it would send a naval squadron and anti-submarine patrol planes to Venezuela this year for a joint exercise with its naval forces, a deployment that comes amid increasingly tense relations with the United States.

The decision to send the squadron and planes to Venezuela was made before Russia's war with Georgia last month, Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrei Nesterenko said.

"This deployment had been planned in advance, and it's unrelated to the current political situation and the developments in the Caucasus," Nesterenko told a news conference.

But the announcement was made just a week after Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that Russia would mount an unspecified response to recent U.S. aid shipments to Georgia.

Nesterenko said the Peter the Great missile cruiser and three other Russian navy ships would visit Venezuela before the year's end and would be joined by a unit of long-range anti-submarine patrol aircraft.

He did not say how many planes would be sent, but said they would be "temporarily based at one of Venezuela's air bases."

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had announced the maneuvers in his Sunday television and radio program, saying the Russian vessels would call on Venezuelan ports in late November or December.

Chavez, who has cultivated close ties with Moscow and placed big orders for Russian jets, helicopters and other weapons, has repeatedly warned that the U.S. Navy poses a threat to Venezuela.

Nesterenko said the joint exercise would not be directed against any third country.

Russia has been angered, however, over the recent deployment of U.S. Navy ships to the Black Sea to deliver humanitarian aid to Georgia, which was ravaged by a five-day war with Russia last month.

Putin last week warned that Russia would respond to the U.S. aid shipments to Georgia, but he did not say how.