Secretary of State Mike Pompeo slammed Russia for sending a pair of long-range nuclear capable Tu-160 bombers "halfway around the world" to Venezuela in comments posted to Twitter late Monday. The Kremlin confirmed the jets touched down at Venezuela's Simon Bolivar International Airport in the capital of Caracas previously that day.
“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,” Pompeo stated.
The Kremlin, which has described the flights as training exercises and part of Russia’s right to make "regular flights over the international waters," responded by describing Pompeo's statement as "an utterly inappropriate comment" and his weighing in as "indeed very undiplomatic," according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.
Peskov also mocked Pompeo's reference to "squandering public funds" by taking note of the United States maintaining by far the world's largest military budget. “As far as the ‘squandering’ is concerned, we don’t agree with that,” he said, adding that half of the mammoth US military budget “would be enough to support all of Africa.”
The Russian MoD described the flight path of the nuclear-capable bombers as over the Atlantic Ocean, the Barents Sea, the Sea of Norway and the Caribbean Sea, at a total single take-off distance of over 10,000 kilometers (about 6,213 miles). For parts of the flight the Tu-160s were reportedly shadowed by Norwegian F-16 fighters.
Two Russian Air Force Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range heavy supersonic bombers 'Nikolay Kuznetsov','Vasiliy Reshetnikov' at Maiquetia Airport,Venezuela. December 10, 2018. pic.twitter.com/TOE4aUKF3u— Military Advisor (@miladvisor) December 10, 2018
This is the second incident in two months involving Russian bombers being shadowed by foreign jets, as in late October British and Norwegian fighters monitored Tu-160s as they flew over the Barents Sea.
Russian military officials have recently noted that "Russia’s long-range aircraft make regular flights over the international waters" and defended the right to continue doing so, according to TASS. This seventh such training flight to take place internationally involving Blackjack bombers in only the past three months ("Blackjack" in NATO parlance; nicknamed White Swans in the Russian military).
But the timing of this has huge political importance for increasingly warm Russian-Venezuelan relations as it comes as President Nicolas Maduro, who is overseeing one of Venezuela's worst political and economic crisis in decades, has been increasingly reliant of Russia for aid, and after he visited Moscow last week and signed an estimated $6 billion deal with Putin. Russia has promising investment in the oil and mining sectors, with military modernization aid to boot.