The White House announced late in the day Wednesday that Russia will withdraw its long range nuclear capable bombers parked in Venezuela since Monday which flew to Caracas on a 10,000km mission in a show of support for socialist President Nicolás Maduro. White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders stated "the planned departure came after the Trump administration spoke with Russian officials," according to a breaking WSJ report.
The departure is planned for Friday, however, the WSJ also noted a Russian embassy representative in Washington said Moscow has not announced a departure date. Instead the Russian military touted a ten hour flight carried out over the Caribbean Sea on Wednesday while accompanied at times by Venezuelan fighter jets, announcing the provocative lengthy flyover in America's backyard via official Russian media. Perhaps it was Moscow sending a big middle finger just before departure of the aircraft from Venezuela?
The Russian Defense Ministry's press service announced via TASS:
During the international visit of the Aerospace Defense Forces' delegation to the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, pilots of strategic bombers Tu-160 conducted a flight in the airspace over the Caribbean Sea. The flight lasted for about 10 hours.
"In certain parts of the route, the flight of Russian bombers was conducted together with Su-30 and F-16 fighter jets of the Venezuelan National Bolivarian Military Aviation. The pilots from the two countries practiced air cooperation when fulfilling air tasks," the defense ministry added.
Perhaps anticipating widespread condemnation from the United States and the West, press release added that "the flight was performed in strict accordance with international rules of using airspace."
The flight of the pair Tu-160 strategic bombers and support aircraft from Russia to Venezuela drove world headlines early this week after the bombers touched down at Simon Bolivar International Airport in capital Caracas on Monday. Russian state media promoted the flight, which involved training in areas such as aerial refueling. It was the first time Russian bombers touched down in Venezuela since prior visits in 2013 and 2008.
The internationally isolated Maduro regime has found itself increasingly reliant of Russia for aid. Last week the Venezuelan president visited Moscow and signed an estimated $6 billion deal with Putin, involving Russian commitments of major investment in the oil and mining sectors, with military modernization aid a focus of the agreement.
During last week's trip to Moscow, Maduro had called Russia a “brother country” with which Venezuela had “raised the flag for the creation of a multipolar and multicentric world.”
Meanwhile Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had slammed Russia for sending the pair of bombers "halfway around the world" to Venezuela in comments posted to Twitter late Monday. “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 tweet set off a war of words and condemnation from Russian counterparts, which called Pompeo's words "undiplomatic" and "unprofessional".
No doubt the image of Russian nuke-capable bombers and allied Venezuelan fighter jets circling for ten hours over the Caribbean — smack dab in America's own backyard — will surely be taken by White House and Pentagon officials as a major provocation.
But the United States can also already claim the victory given reports that Russia has now agreed to withdraw the aircraft and and will send them packing back home.