By Gerald V. Paul
The Caribbean is remaining silent on news that Russian bombers are set to patrol the region – considered the “backyard” of the U.S. – in what Associated Press recently called “a show of military muscle amid tensions with the West.”
While the U.S. has a long history of involvement in the Caribbean, Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman, declined to call this a Russian provocation. He said the Russians have a right, like any other nation, to operate in international airspace and in international waters.
The important thing, Warren said, is for such exercises to be carried out in accordance with international standards.
Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu is reported to have said the decision to add these missions is a result of “the current situation”, apparently referencing rising tensions between Russia and the West over Ukraine, a situation which prompted Prime Minister Stephen Harper recently to tell Russian President Vladimir Putin to “Get out of the Ukraine.”
“In the current situation we have to maintain military presence in the western Atlantic and eastern Pacific, as well as the Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,” Shoigu said.
Shoigu said earlier this year that Russia plans on expanding its military presence by striking deals to use ports in Latin America and elsewhere. Russia is discussing these plans with officials from countries including Venezuela and Cuba.
Shoigu told the CBC that “there is an action plan to improve the condition of our long-range aviation technology, which provides for its repair and servicing at industrial facilities.”
Long -range bombers have been in the area before, but only to participate in various visits to the region when the aircraft stopped overnight at locations in South or Central America. During the Cold War, other types of Russian aircraft flew patrols there, including surveillance and anti-submarine aircraft.
While official Caribbean commentators and sources were silent on the threat, the internet was alive with others who offered their take on the situation.
Kikita Glushkov, a research analyst at Suvorova, posted on Facebook: “They have flown from bases in Venezuela in the past, and there is no reason they will not do so again.”
Elva Orellana posted on the internet: “I think the U.S. must do something about Russian bombers and surveillance in the Caribbean. Special attention must be done to ensure that Cuba won’t take advantage of this. Watch out guys.”
And James Raymond noted: “Wait for Putin to finish what Krushev started by placing missiles in Cuba. I hope we have a president by then with the courage that Kennedy had,” a reference to the Cuban Missile Crisis.