Russian Bombers in Venezuela: No Need for Permanent Air Base

On December 11, 2018, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers landed in Venezuela after a long-distance flight from their home base in Russia. Some time before their arrival, an An-124-100 super-heavy military transport aircraft with military spare parts and equipment, as well as an Il-62M passenger aircraft with technical personnel, arrived in Venezuela. Having stayed there for a couple of days, the bombers returned to their homeland, and on the way home they were accompanied by F-16A and Su-30MK2V fighters of the Venezuelan Air Force as a honorary escort.

This is the third visit of the Russian strategic aviation to this Latin American country after similar flights in 2008 and 2013. In a sense, this is quite a routine event. Despite this, the flight got reaction from US leaders, who spoke in a somewhat derogatory tone about the wisdom of this flight on the background of difficult economic conditions in the two countries.

But, in fact, we are talking about a purely demonstrational flight which cannot have any practical dimension. Tu-160 or any other aircraft from the long-range aviation structure of the Russian Aerospace Forces do not need permanent presence in Venezuela, since they would be vulnerable to a potential American strike. Moreover, the range of their weapons’ destructive power enables them to fulfil different tasks using Russian airfields. This year, for the first time in the Tu-160’s history, the bombers landed in the Vorkuta airport, expanding the geography of possible sites from which they can fly.

The deployment of a Russian military base in Venezuela does not make any sense, since its goals and objectives are not very clear. It will also be vulnerable to American actions during a possible conflict, and it will not be able to withstand long enough against the American armed forces. The issue of supplies for a large Russian military group in Latin America remains open, since even deliveries to the Russian contingent in Syria caused a serious strain in both Russian military transport aviation and the navy. Moreover, in the case of Venezuela, Russian airplanes will need intermediate airfields for refuelling, and the possibility of gaining access to them seems to be ephemeral. The same arguments apply to Cuba.

However, this does impede the deployment in these countries of individual Russian military facilities manned by a small number of specialists. First of all, we can talk about electronic intelligence and communications centres. But their establishment is not a priority.

Thus, no analogy can be drawn between the Soviet “Anadyr” operation, when more than 40 thousand servicemen were transferred to Cuba, and the one-time flight of two bombers. Even the opening of Russian military facilities in the region cannot be compared to the Cuban precedent and can hardly cause escalation in the US-Russian relations. But it may well serve as a propaganda scarecrow.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.