As Washington is determined to leave the landmark INF Treaty, it seems Moscow is looking for a response. Russian media has cited diplomatic sources as saying that Moscow is eyeing a strategic air base off Venezuela’s coast.
The arrival of two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela earlier this month has provoked a nervous reaction from Washington and led to a brief heated exchange between the US and Russian officials.
This might have been a prelude to a more ambitious endeavor, Russia’s Nezavisimaya Gazeta (NG) daily revealed, citing military and diplomatic sources.
The base was allegedly planned to be established on the Orchila Island located in the Caribbean Sea some 160 kilometers away from the Venezuelan capital of Caracas.
The isle hosts a Venezuelan airfield and a Navy base and was already visited by the Russian military ten years ago.
The late Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez even offered Russia to set up an air base there back in 2008, the NG reported, adding that Moscow hesitated to make such a decision at that time.
Ten years on relations between Russia and the US are at their arguably lowest point since the Cold War. Washington is seeking to withdraw from key arms control agreements, including the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF), which bans all short and mid-range ballistic missiles.
The US plans provoked a strong reaction from Moscow, saying it would ‘take measures’ if any new American missiles threatening its security are placed in Europe.
Path to stability or crisis?
An air base in Venezuela capable of hosting the Russian strategic nuclear-capable long-range bombers might well be one of such retaliation measures, experts believe.
“It cannot be ruled out that if all the agreements [under the INF Treaty] are disrupted we will have to take both symmetric and asymmetric steps to ensure stability,” Andrey Koshkin, the head of the chair of sociology and political sciences at the Russian Plekhanov University of Economics, told RT, adding that such a base would be a good option in this regard.
Leaving the INF Treaty would potentially allow the US to deploy nuclear missiles to Europe, posing a threat to Russia, the experts warned, suggesting that getting into the US “backyard” might be the only viable response for Russia.
However, with each side raising the stakes, the situation might get dangerously close to something close to a military standoff between the two great powers.
“This might become a prelude to something similar to a Caribbean Crisis,” Konstantin Sivkov, a retired Navy officer and a military analyst, told RT.
Intentions & obstacles
Still, the situation is anything but certain yet. Russian officials have not commented on the issue and Caracas openly denied reports about a potential ‘Russian base’ on the Venezuelan soil.
Venezuelan officials, however, indicated they were more than willing to consider such an option.
“I wish it were true but it is not,” the president of Venezuela’s Constituent National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, told journalists, when asked about the base.
Caracas also clearly indicated its intention to “extend” military cooperation with Russia and “make it more effective.”