Russian warships have been plying the waters off Venezuela and Panama in recent weeks and are now heading for Cuba, but U.S. officials are not so much wringing their hands as yawning.
Asked about a Russian warship transiting the Panama Canal earlier this month, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice — who saw the ship while crossing the canal last week — told The Associated Press: “I guess they’re on R&R. It’s fine.”
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice takes questions on current foreign relations issues and reflects on her years as America’s top diplomat, during an exclusive interview with The Associated Press, Monday, Dec. 15, 2008, at the State Department in Washington.(AP Photo/stf)
The Pentagon, while puzzled by the Russians’ actions, also is taking a ho-hum attitude. The U.S. military commander for the region, Adm. James Stavridis, head of the U.S. Southern Command, said that from his vantage point, there is no reason to be concerned about the Russian naval activity.
“They pose no military threat to the U.S.,” Stavridis said in an e-mail to the AP on Tuesday.
It was the first such passage by a Russian or Soviet warship since World War II.
There is no suggestion of a military confrontation, but the Russian moves are notable in part because they appear to reflect an effort by Moscow to flex some muscle in America’s backyard in response to Washington’s support for the former Soviet republic of Georgia and elsewhere on the Russian periphery. That includes U.S. missile defense bases to be erected in Poland and the Czech Republic.
The Russians were unhappy with a U.S. decision to send a state-of-the-art warship into the Black Sea as part of an American humanitarian aid mission for Georgia in the aftermath of last August’s war with Russia. The Russians also are angry about the Bush administration’s push to add Georgia and the former Soviet republic of Ukraine as members of the NATO military alliance.
Under the gaze of the U.S. Southern Command, Russian ships this fall held joint exercises with the navy of Venezuela, whose president, Hugo Chavez, is a fierce U.S. critic.
Navy Rear Adm. Tom Meek, the deputy director for security and intelligence at Southern Command, said in a telephone interview Tuesday that he sees little chance of Russia teaming up with Venezuela in a militarily meaningful way.
Above: Russia’s “Peter the Great”
This is a July 2004 file photo of the Admiral Chabanenko, Russian anti-submarine destroyer, seen in the Barents Sea, Russia. The Admiral Chabanenko sailed through the Panama Canal – the first Russian ship to do so since World War II. The Russian Navy is on a symbolic projection of Moscow’s power in a traditional U.S. zone of influence.