Saturday, October 4, 2008

Colombian defense chief warns against Russian military presence

BUENOS AIRIES, October 4 (RIA Novosti) - Colombia's defense minister said Saturday that Russia's increasing military presence in Latin America would lead to a return to the time of the Cold War.

"Russia, with its 16,000 nuclear bombs, has a great desire to be a key player in the world. But its presence in the region will promote a return to the Cold War," Juan Manuel Santos said on Colombian radio Caracol.

Speaking ahead of an official visit to Russia, he said the plans for Russian naval exercises in the Caribbean in November could "affect the balance of power in the region and its stability."

"Russia has already shown its strength, sending two strategic bombers capable of carrying 16 nuclear warheads to our neighbor Venezuela." Santos said, adding that the region had not seen anything similar since the Cuban missile crisis four decades ago.

"Who would have thought a couple of years ago that there would be a new center of the Cold War near us?" he asked.

Two Russian strategic bombers recently carried out patrols along the coast of South America during a visit to Russia's chief ally on the continent, Venezuela, and a naval task force led by the nuclear-powered missile cruiser Pyotr Velikiy is on its way to the country for joint exercises in the Caribbean.

Santos said he hoped his visit to Russia, the first by a Colombian defense minister, would improve relations between the two countries, particularly with regard to Colombia's struggle against terrorism, drug trafficking and organized crime.

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