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Russian warships stop off in Libya

afrol News, 1 October - Four Russian warships, which are on their way to Venezuela to conduct joint naval operations, will also stop off in Libya and other Mediterranean countries.

According to Russian Navy spokesperson Igor Dygalo, warships, led by nuclear-powered heavy missile cruiser Peter the Great, left their base on 22 September in latest show of strength by Moscow as it builds links with some of Washington's sharpest critics.

Mr Dygalo said today that warships, currently on a long-range sortie, which will bring them to Caribbean in November, will enter Mediterranean Sea on 5 October to make several port calls in region.

He said ships that Russia is sending to Venezuela are its first deployment of military power to Western Hemisphere since Cold War.

During the Cold War, Latin America was an ideological battleground between Soviet Union and US.

Russian media have reportedly noted that warships could also divert to a Syrian port, though this has not been confirmed.

"Having a reserve of time before holding joint exercises with Venezuela's navy, set for November 2008, a unit of warships will drill a large number of exercises in various parts of Mediterranean Sea and will also call at a number of ports in Mediterranean states," Mr Dygalo said.

Washington saw Libya as a rogue state until it agreed to give up a weapons of mass destruction programme.

Last month United States secretary of state Condoleezza Rice met Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in Tripoli, the first such visit in 55 years.

"As soon as they accomplish all their tasks in Mediterranean Sea, unit will head for Caribbean Sea, in order to arrive on time for a joint naval exercise in Venezuela," Mr Dygalo said.

Western navies will reportedly closely watch the exercises with Venezuela as first such projection of Russian power close to US shores since collapse of Soviet Union.

During entire mission, task group is expected to cover a distance of 15,000 nautical miles (30,000 km).

Russia is said to have announced last year that its Navy had resumed and would build up a constant presence in different regions of world's oceans.

Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, an unbridled critic of US foreign policy, said that Latin America needed a strong friendship with Russia to help reduce US influence and keep peace in region.

Russia has signed weapons contracts worth more than US$4 billion with Venezuela since 2005 to supply fighter jets, helicopters, and 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles, and Moscow and Caracas are now negotiating new weapons deals.

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