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No link between Russia-Venezuela naval drills and Georgia - Moscow

MOSCOW, September 8 (RIA Novosti) - The upcoming joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercise was agreed on long before the current Georgia crisis and is unrelated to the situation in the Caucasus, a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman said on Monday.

"It is a pre-planned event that is not in any way connected to the situation in the Caucasus. The agreement [to hold the exercise] was reached a long time before what happened on August 7-8," Andrei Nesterenko said.

Nesterenko said the exercise would not target any "third-party country."

Georgian forces attacked South Ossetia on August 8 in an attempt to take back the breakaway republic, triggering a Russian operation to "force Georgia to peace." The operation was concluded on August 12. On August 26, Russia recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent states. The majority of the residents of both republics already had Russian citizenship.

In the aftermath of the Russian-Georgian war, NATO ships, including U.S. warships, began to make deliveries of humanitarian aid to Georgia. Russia questioned the nature of the aid, and also said that it would respond to the build up of NATO ships in the Black Sea.

"Our response will be calm, not hysterical, but there will definitely be a response," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said on September 2.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday the naval exercise would be held in the Caribbean in late November-early December.

According to earlier media reports, Venezuelan navy officials said four Russian warships and a number of Venezuelan missile frigates, patrol boats, submarines and aircraft are to take part in the joint drills.

Chavez, an outspoken critic of Washington since coming to power nine years ago, has focused his foreign policy on bolstering ties with countries outside the U.S. sphere of influence.

In 2005-2006, Venezuela bought more than 50 combat helicopters, 24 Su-30MK2 fighters, 12 Tor-M1 air defense missile systems and 100,000 AK-103 rifles from Russia. Current arms contracts between Russia and Venezuela are worth about $4 billion, according to various sources.

Future deliveries may include Amur-class diesel submarines, Il-76MD military transport planes, Il-78 aerial tankers and air-defense missile systems.

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