December 4, 2008
Several ships from the Russian navy recently completed maneuvers in the Caribbean Sea, joined by ships of Venezuela's navy. The Russian naval task force was led by the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great. This naval exercise was timed to coincide with the recent visit of President Dmitry Medvedev, who stopped in Caracas after attending the APEC summit in Peru. It is also seen as a gesture of retaliation after the United States sent relief supplies to Georgia aboard U.S. warships following the invasion by Russian forces in August. From the perspective of Venezuela, it was a perfect opportunity to show defiance toward "U.S. imperialism," after the recent elections in which opposition leaders made minor gains. As reported in the Washington Post:
President Hugo Chavez has said the naval exercises weren't meant as a provocation to the United States or any other nation. He has praised Russia for raising its profile in the Americas, while saying the U.S. Navy's recently reactivated Fourth Fleet poses a threat to Venezuela
It would be very difficult to unravel the mixed motivations for this strategic challenge to U.S. interests in the Caribbean Basis. What are they really up to? The point is that Russia's deployment of major naval units to vital nearby shipping lines forces the United States to respond in an appropriate fashion. We will be obliged to divert precious strategic resources from the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Unfortunately, it gets even more complicated than that. As The Economist magazine observes, the United States really ought to be more concerned about China, which has been busy signing trade agreements with Latin American countries to keep its dynamic industries well-supplied, than to Russia, whose economy remains relatively stagnant. Facing multiple challenges on multiple strategic fronts, at a time when our means to respond are less than adequate, the United States will be hard pressed to maintain a favorable global balance of power.