Two Tu-160 strategic bombers recently returned to Russia on December 15 after carrying out an international visit to Venezuela, which started on 10 December. During this short visit, the planes held an exercise in the equatorial area under high humidity and temperature conditions. The Tu-160 pilots also practiced take-offs from an unknown airfield under conditions of low visibility.
Apart from that, the Russian planes conducted a 10-hour flight over the waters of the Caribbean Sea, while being accompanied by Venezuelan Su-30s and F-16s. It was just one of many joint flights by the Russian bombers with the Venezuelan Air Force during the visit.
This was not the first visit by Russian strategic bombers to the Latin American country. Tu-160s arrived in Venezuela back in September 2008 and October 2013 to hold joint drills.
International Reaction: From Warm Welcome to Insulting Jokes
The arrival of Russian strategic bombers stirred a notable backlash from the US and neighbouring Colombia. Colombian President Ivan Duque called the move unfriendly. The Organisation of American States (OAS) also expressed concern over the presence of Russian military aircraft in Venezuela.
Venezuelan Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez responded to these statements by assuring the public that the presence of Russian Aerospace Forces in Venezuela poses no threat and added that they had arrived to conduct joint flights with the country's airplanes.
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo scolded Russia for sending its bombers "halfway around the world to Venezuela" and called on "the Russian and Venezuelan people" to see the move as "two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer".
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov debunked Pompeo's statements as "absolutely inappropriate" and "unprofessional". He recalled that the US military budget alone could feed the whole of Africa. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza called Pompeo's reaction to the Tu-160 flight "outrageous" and hypocritical.
US Ambassador to Colombia Kevin Whitaker went even further than the US secretary of state, trying to making fun of the Russian Air Force for sending "museum pieces" instead of planes, suggesting that the original Tu-160 was invented in 1980s.
The Russian Defence Ministry called Whitaker's statements "amateur" and noted that none of the Pentagon's own experts supported it. The ministry added that the Tu-160 aircraft are unmatched by any other US or NATO warplanes in terms of speed, payload and range, while its improved version, called Tu-160M2, has left its rivals far behind.
The Tupolev Tu-160 (NATO reporting name Blackjack), known in Russia as the White Swan due to its huge white wings with a 55-metre span, is a supersonic strategic bomber developed in the early 1980s. The jet is capable of reaching a speed of Mach 2, flying up to 12,300km without refuelling and can carry up to 40,000kg of ordnance, including short-range nuclear missiles.
The Tu-160 received a massive upgrade in 2005 (afterwards referred to as the Tu-160M2), receiving not only new engines, avionics, and electronic systems, but also a new coating based on stealth technology.