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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Destroyer Will Cross Panama Canal

APA Venezuelan jet flying over the Peter the Great cruiser during training exercises in the Caribbean Sea this week.
A Russian warship will sail across the Panama Canal after joint maneuvers with the Venezuelan navy, Navy spokesman Igor Dygalo said Wednesday.

The Admiral Chabanenko destroyer will arrive Friday at the Rodman naval base in Panama's port of Balboa for a six-day visit, Dygalo said. It will be the first time since World War II that a Soviet or Russian military vessel has crossed the canal, he added.

The squadron's voyage to Venezuela was Russia's first such deployment to the Western Hemisphere since the Cold War era. It was intended to showcase the Kremlin's power abroad. The Panama Canal has long been a symbol of U.S. influence in Latin America.

Venezuelan Information Ministry / Reuters
Venezuelan officials watching a Russian KA-27 helicopter land on a frigate.
Rossia state television on Tuesday showed images of a Venezuelan-operated Sukhoi fighter jet swooping low over Russian warships in a simulated air attack. The exercises that ended late Monday with a fireworks display included an air defense exercise and joint actions to spot, pursue and detain an intruding vessel, Dygalo said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has said the naval exercises were not meant as a provocation to the United States or any other nation.

This week's joint naval exercises featured helicopters dropping special forces soldiers onto a ship as if it had been "seized by terrorists," Rossia television reported.

Russia sent the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and support ships, and Russian television said they were joined by three Venezuelan frigates for the exercises, dubbed "Venrus 2008."

Rossia reported that the Venezuelan warships returned home and the Russian squadron left the area.

The ships operated with joint Russian-Venezuelan crews, according to Rossia. At one point, the report said, the commander of the Russian squadron captained a Venezuelan frigate while Venezuelan Rear Admiral Luis Morales acted as captain of the Peter the Great.

Venezuelan Defense Minister Gustavo Rangel was aboard one of the ships on Monday. Rossia showed him thanking the Russians and reciting the motto often used by Chavez: "Fatherland, socialism or death! We will prevail!"