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Chavez threatens to sink U.S. Fourth Fleet

By
MARTIN SIEFF

WASHINGTON, Aug. 4 (UPI) -- A buoyant Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez boasted Sunday that his air force could sink the U.S. Fourth Fleet in the Caribbean now that it had received 24 Russian Sukhoi Su-30MK2 combat aircraft equipped with missiles capable of sinking ships.

"We've received the 24 Sukhoi aircraft," Chavez said Sunday, according to a report published Monday by Russia's RIA Novosti news agency. "They're for defensive purposes; we're not going to attack anybody."

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However, Chavez immediately added, "Any gringo ship that sails into brown waters (Venezuelan offshore waters made brown by the silt carried out to sea from Venezuela's Orinoco River) will itself turn brown and go to the bottom, because they'll not get through."

Chavez also boasted that the missiles the Sukhoi Su30MK2s carried had a considerably longer range than those of U.S. Lockheed Martin F-16 Fighting Falcons.

The Sukhoi combat aircraft were delivered as a component of the enormous $4 billion arms agreement that Chavez recently concluded with Russia. It also involves the sale of Main Battle Tanks, transport aircraft, air-defense systems and Kalashnikov AK automatic assault rifles, RIA Novosti said. The Russian news agency noted the agreement also covered training for pilots and crews, and the supply of missiles to equip the Sukhoi combat aircraft.

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The $4 billion arms order was not the first that Chavez, recently flush with cash, thanks to record high global oil prices, has closed with Russia. RIA Novosti noted that in 2005-2006, he also approved an earlier agreement to purchase over 50 combat helicopters, a first batch of 24 Sukhoi Su-30MK2 fighters, 12 Tor-M1 state-of-the-art air defense anti-aircraft and anti-ballistic-missile systems and 100,000 Kalashnikov AK-103 rifles from the Kremlin..


Russia boosts support for Cuba.

Russia's Security Council announced Friday that Moscow was going to boost its bilateral cooperation in all areas with Cuba.

The announcement came only a week and a half after the Moscow newspaper Izvestia on July 21 cited anonymous Russian Defense Ministry officials as saying they might base nuclear-capable Tupolov Tu-160 White Swan supersonic bombers -- NATO designation Blackjack -- in Cuba.

The Kremlin lost no time in denying the report, but the U.S. government took the possibility so seriously that on July 22, the very day after the Izvestia article appeared, U.S. Air Force four-star Gen. Norton Schwartz, at his confirmation hearings before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee to be the next USAF chief of staff, warned Moscow that basing the giant, Mach-2 Tu-160s in Cuba would be crossing "a red line" in relations with the United States.

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RIA Novosti said Friday that Russian Security Council head Nikolai Patrushev and Russian Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin had taken an official trip to Cuba on July 30-31. The Russian news agency said the purpose of the mission was to develop "projects to revive economic ties between the former Cold War allies, including Russian companies' participation in developing oil fields."

"[Cuban President] Raul Castro, Patrushev and Sechin said at a meeting that their countries were set to make consistent efforts to restore longtime ties in all spheres of cooperation and to expand and strengthen them," the Security Council said in a statement cited in the report.

RIA Novosti said Sechin had specified oil production, tourism, healthcare, nickel production, telecommunications and nano-technology as major areas in which cooperation would be created or increased.

Former Russian President and current Prime Minister Vladimir Putin in 2006 ended 15 years of Russian neglect of Cuba since the disintegration of the Soviet Union at the end of the Cold War by providing a $355 million loan to Havana to buy vehicles and to modernize Cuba's antiquated energy infrastructure.

Soviet and now Russian support for Cuba has been a hot-button, super-sensitive issue in relations between Washington and Moscow ever since the October 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis brought the two thermonuclear superpowers to their closest danger of all-out thermonuclear conflict in the entire history of the Cold War.

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South Ossetians raise tensions with Georgia.

The danger of war between the former Soviet republic of Georgia in the Caucasus region and its Russian-backed secessionist enclave of South Ossetia is coming closer, the Russian Foreign Ministry warned Sunday.

"The situation in the Georgian-Ossetian conflict area, which sharply aggravated on Aug. 1-2 as a result of mass mortar shelling of residential quarters in (the South Ossetian capital) Tskhinvali, which claimed human lives, remains extremely explosive. The threat of large-scale combat operations between Georgia and South Ossetia is becoming ever more real," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement published on its Web site Sunday, RIA Novosti reported Monday.

RIA Novosti said the always simmering tensions between Georgia, which wants to join the U.S.-led NATO alliance, and South Ossetia heated up this weekend. The news agency said Georgian forces fired artillery at South Ossetian targets Friday night and early Saturday morning. It said six people died in the bombardment and another 13 were injured. Georgia said the South Ossetians had set off the fighting.

RIA Novosti said the South Ossetians also claimed Georgia had started to move an artillery battalion and two mortar batteries from the 4th motorized brigade of the Georgian Defense Ministry from the eastern city of Gori in the direction of the secessionist headquarters and claimed Tskhinvali. But Georgian authorities said the claims were false.

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South Ossetian secessionist chief Eduard Kokoity, who is backed by Moscow, claimed Saturday he was prepared to call up troops and welcome volunteers from other parts of the Caucasus region to battle Georgian troops, RIA Novosti said.

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