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A new Cuban missile crisis? Russia eyes bomber bases in Latin America

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MOSCOW – A top Russian military official has confirmed that the Kremlin is thinking of parking some of its strategic bombers in Cuba or Venezuela, within easy range of the continental United States.

That's just one of several options currently under discussion in Moscow that, if carried out, would see Russia's armed forces take up positions around the world on a scale unseen since the cold war ended almost two decades ago.

Venezuelan President Hugo "Chavez has proposed to us a whole island with an airfield that we can use for temporary basing of strategic bombers," Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, chief of Russia's strategic aviation forces, told journalists on Saturday.

"There are four or five airfields in Cuba with 4,000-meter-long runways, which absolutely suit us," he added. "If the two chiefs of state display such a political will, we are ready to fly there."

In late 2007 Russia resumed its cold war-era bomber patrols along the North American coast, using lumbering 1950s-vintage turboprop Tu-95 Bear bombers as well as a few needle-nosed supersonic Tu-160s, which were introduced in the 1980s.

But Russian generals complain that in the absence of refueling and maintenance facilities in the western hemisphere, the planes are able to remain as little as half an hour on station before beginning the long flight back to their bases in Russia.

As the Monitor reported recently (see story here), two Tu-160s visited Venezuela last September as part of joint war games that included a large flotilla of Russian warships and a visit to the region by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev.

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