Adding more fuel to a tense situation, Russia has sent two Tu-160 Blackjack bombers to Venezuela in a show of force supporting the socialist Maduro regime. According to Voice of America news:
Russia’s Defense Ministry said a pair Tu-160 bombers landed at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas on Monday following a 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) flight. It didn’t say if the bombers were carrying any weapons and didn’t say how long they will stay in Venezuela.
Being comparable in design and role to the US’ B1, the platform is capable of a global range and can be equipped with either a conventional payload of KH-101 cruise missiles or the nuclear tipped KH-102. When compared to the B1 in this piece by National Interest, both aircraft are best suited to strategic supporting fire roles. This is not to underscore its lethality; the bomber been used with a high degree of success in an attack role on insurgents in Syria. Because of this role, the bomber itself is highly vulnerable to air defense artillery much like the B1. But what should be alarming is the missile fired from the platform- the KH-101- effectively grants the bomber an additional 3,100 miles of standoff, making a deployment in Venezuela particularly dangerous to the US mainland.
This is a continuing pattern of buildup in the region from both Russia and China. As the INF treaty appears to be deteriorating along with much of the stability of Western Europe, the Sino-Russian alliance is looking to place further pressure on the US much closer to home. In a bit of context from the Free Beacon:
Maduro visited Moscow last week and was promised an estimated $6 billion in investment pledges in the oil and mining sectors aimed at propping up the regime in Caracas and its collapsing economy.
Maduro said Moscow also promised to help modernize Venezuela’s military.
Defense ministers from the two countries met in Moscow last week and agreed that Russian air force and naval forces would continue to use Venezuelan ports and airports.
That modernization appears to be at several levels, going beyond the AK-103 factory built in Caracas which will be at full capacity soon. Both Russia and China appear ready, through their buildup of arms and support structures in the South and Central American region, to better shape their interests. Given the evidence of Venezuelan support of the so-called ‘migrant caravan’, it would be reasonable to conclude they have some level of support from both parties. After all, China has purchased the highest power spanish language radio station in the very region the migrants looked to cross and continue to remain. Given the other levels of involvement Russia and China are committing to nations of the region including Cuba, now is the time to prepare for a potentially wider conflict that could spring up over night. At a minimum, they’re looking to capitalize on our further domestic strife at home.