Two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers, dubbed the “white swan,” was part of a fleet of aircraft that arrived at the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Maichetia, Venezuela, today after a flight of more than 6,200 miles.
The Tupolev Tu-160 is a supersonic variable-sweep wing heavy strategic bomber, the largest and heaviest supersonic aircraft every built, which entered service in April of 1987. They make up the aerial component of Russia’s continuous nuclear weapons deployment—also known as the “nuclear triad.”
There are only 27 Tu-160s in service, meaning the deployment of two to Venezuela constitutes a significant deployment of Russia’s nuclear deterrent to the Latin American country. Although structurally similar to the B1-B Lancer, it performs an entirely different mission objective for the Russian Aerospace Forces.
It is not immediately clear how long the strategic bombers will be stationed in Venezuela. Previously, Moscow has sent Tu-160s there; in September of 2008 and in October and November of 2013.
The Russian Ministry of Defense announced the bombers were joined by an An-124 heavy military transport plane, as well as an Il-62 long-haul plane. Their route took them over the Norwegian Sea, the Barents Sea, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Caribbean Sea, and included for a brief time F-16 “escorts” from the Norwegian Air Force.
The move came as tensions between Moscow and Washington reached new heights. The head of Ukraine’s SBU security service described just how tense the situation has become, noting that a hair trigger exists that could lead to an invasion of Russian regular army forces into his country:
“Purposeful inspirations by Russian special services of interfaith conflicts in Ukraine, combined with provocations of direct terrorist action, can be a pretext for an open military invasion of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation into our country.”
It should be noted, however, that Kiev—not Moscow—prompted the latest “interfaith conflicts” within the Orthodox Church when it demanded autocephaly for a number of churches that wished to break away from Moscow’s influence. Additionally, there have been a number of acts of violence directed toward Russian diplomatic and military personnel that appear to have been perpetrated by Ukrainians.
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