Moscow recently deployed two nuclear-capable bombers in Venezuela, triggering widespread speculation that the country was ready to face any military challenge stemming from the US.
By deploying nuclear capable strategic Tu-160 bombers in Venezuela, the Latin American country known for its anti-US stance, Russia has managed to trigger a new debate among foreign policy experts about whether the two countries are heading towards another Cold War.
The move is reminiscent of when the former Soviet Union, the predecessor state of Russia, deployed strategic ballistic missile facilities in the communist country Cuba in 1962, threatening the US from close range and counterbalancing the military advantage of the US-led NATO alliance.
“If you go back to the Cold War, Russians used bombers, not necessarily landing but most often just flying around the US into the Caribbean across the Atlantic and the Pacific and all the way close to Alaska (the northwestern US state closest to Russian territory),” said Omar Lamrani, a senior military analyst at Stratfor, a prominent American think-tank.
The initiative is meant to extend the Russian military's range against the US, said Lamrani. “These bombers are nuclear capable, so they would be tasked in a conflict to fly close to the US and launch their missiles at the US.”
The Russian Tu-160s can launch nuclear warhead missiles with a range of 5,500 kilometres. During Russia’s Syria campaign, Moscow used the bombers for the first time to launch conventional-tipped Kh-101 cruise missiles.
During the Cold War, Lamrani said, Russia trained its pilots to fly close to US airbases in order to send a message across Washington that they were well-prepared.
“They did so during the Cold War," he said. "After the Cold War ended, with the lack of hostilities and with the lack of budget, these kind of missions did not occur as often as it used to be,” Lamrani told TRT World.
But since the conflict in Ukraine broke out in 2014, tensions between Russia and the Western bloc, led by the US, have rarely calmed down. On the other hand, in Syria, Russians have proved to the world that they can afford offshore military missions that can drag on for years.
This is not the first time the country has sent bombers to Russia-friendly Venezuela, a country where the government has championed socialist causes since the early 2000s.
In 2008 and 2013, Moscow again sent Tu-160 bombers to the Latin American country.
For Washington, a socialist state like Venezuela is a headache.
The recent deployment comes following President Nicolas Maduro’s visit to Moscow last week, where he sought political and economic support to address the country’s financial problems. Venezuela owes billions of dollars to Russia.
“Russians want to firm up their ties with Venezuela and other countries in the region,” Lamrani said, viewing that the country wants to show its international presence.
He also raised a possibility that the bombers could visit other countries in the Americas, reminding that in 2013 these bombers not only visited Venezuela but also landed in Nicaragua, another Latin American country which has friendly ties with the Russians.
Is it the beginning of a new Cold War?
Lamrani believes the Russian military is trying to develop capabilities that would ensure its ability to compete with the US both in terms of land-based logistics and nuclear power.
Russians, he said, are also 'rebuilding' their fleet in the Atlantic Ocean by increasing its number of submarines and the renewed escalation is due to the fact Russia can ‘afford’ it.
US President Donald Trump recently signaled that Washington will withdraw from the 1987 landmark nuclear treaty, which prohibits the deployment of land-based nuclear missiles with ranges between 500 and 5,500 kilometres.
For many experts, Trump’s announcement reflected that a new round of the arms race has started between Washington and Moscow.
But with their latest showdown in Venezuela, the Russians don't seem to much care whether the US complies with the 1987 nuclear deal or pulls out of it.
“Putin has showed super-high tech weapons which actually decapitalise most of the American investments and their future investments in this strategic field. These supersonic cruise missiles which penetrate any defense say that ‘We have an arms race without participating in it,’” said Sergei Karaganov, an influential Russian political scientist and a former foreign policy advisor to the Kremlin, during an extensive interview with TRT World in early October.
Karaganov, who is also leading one of Russia’s top think-tanks, pointedly said that Moscow has created a system which depreciates most of the American investments, reaching a point where it has the power to counter the US or engage in a potential arms race.
“We are showing Americans that whatever investments they do, they are wasting money,” Karaganov said.