A number of US lawmakers and Pentagon officials have raised concerns over Russia’s plans for sending navy ships and long-range bombers to Latin America for the first time in years.
According to The Hill, Moscow is planning bases in countries in the region like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s national security team met last week to discuss strengthening military ties with the region.
“They’re on the march,” Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Indiana) told a Senate hearing earlier this month. “They’re working the scenes where we can’t work. And they’re doing a pretty good job.”
Gen. James Kelly, commander of US Southern Command, also said such plans by Moscow to increase its military presence in Latin America have not been seen in more than 30 years.
“It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence,” said Kelly at the Senate hearing.
“We will be losing the ability to influence developments in a region that is very important to us,” warned Angel Rabasa, a senior political scientist at RAND, a think tank formed to offer research and analysis to the US military.
The already simmering tensions between Washington and Moscow have further intensified following a referendum in the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea on March 16 in which nearly 97 percent of Crimeans voted to break away from Ukraine and rejoin Russia.
At a Friday session, the upper house of the Federal Assembly of Russia unanimously approved a treaty, signed by Putin on March 18, which officially makes Crimea part of the Russian Federation. Later in the day, Putin signed the legislation into law.
US President Barack Obama has already issued a sanctions list which targets 27 Russian officials and Rossiya Bank.
In retaliation, the Kremlin imposed sanctions on a bipartisan group of six US lawmakers, including House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada), and three White House officials.
Meanwhile, Putin mocked the US sanctions, saying he planned to open an account at Rossiya Bank.
“I’ve already said that I was going to open an account in this bank, more than that I asked for my salary to be transferred to this account,” the Russian president said !!