Planes Didn't Carry Nuclear Weapons

Two long-range bombers that flew to Venezuela in the first Western Hemisphere flight since the Cold War carried no nuclear weapons, Interfax cited an Air Force official as saying Thursday.

The bombers flew to Venezuela before planned joint military maneuvers that appear to be a tit-for-tat response to the U.S. warships being used to deliver aid to U.S.-allied Georgia.

The Tu-160 jets did not have any such weaponry on board, Major General Vladimir Drik said, Interfax reported. There was no word on other armaments. Russian officials earlier had confirmed the planes' arrival in Venezuela but refused to say whether they were carrying weapons.

The two Russian strategic bombers landed in Venezuela on Wednesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said, adding that he hopes to "fly one of those things" himself.

Chavez called the deployment part of a move toward a "pluri-polar world" -- a reference to moving away from U.S. dominance. "The Yankee hegemony is finished," Chavez said in a televised speech.

NATO fighters escorted the two Russian bombers on their 13-hour trip to Venezuela over the Arctic and Atlantic Oceans, the Defense Ministry said.

Later, Chavez called the U.S. the "empire" as he addressed troops at the christening of a new coast guard patrol ship.

He dismissed comparisons to the Cold War but mentioned Cuba while saying he had been reviewing flight theory in a simulator in hopes of flying one of the Russian planes.

Addressing his close friend Fidel Castro, Chavez said: "I'm going to fly a Tu-160. Fidel, I'm going to fly low past you there."