Russian warships approached Venezuela Monday for upcoming joint maneuvers -- Moscow's first military presence in the region since the Cold War -- as Washington closely monitored the situation.
Venezuelan defense officials said the ships, including the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great and destroyer Admiral Chabankenko, would arrive on Tuesday
The joint exercises were to coincide with a two-day visit by Russian President Dmitry Medvedev to Venezuela, the strongest US critic in the region.
Medvedev was due to arrive Wednesday and meet fiercely anti-liberal President Hugo Chavez on Thursday, before heading to communist Cuba.
Analysts see Medvedev as bringing a defiant message to Washington's doorstep, in the wake of Russian outrage at US plans to install a strategic missile shield in Poland and the Czech Republic, and support for the brief Georgia war in August.
The maneuvers will start on Wednesday in port and take place at sea on December 1, Venezuelan Operations Command chief General Jesus Gonzalez told journalists.
"It's a natural exercise that we've carried out with various countries, and many others carry out," the general added.
A Russian naval spokesman said in Moscow that the exercises would include operation planning, helping ships in distress and supplying ships on the move.
"If the Venezuelans and the Russians want to have, you know, a military exercise, that's fine, but we'll obviously be watching it very closely," US State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said Monday.Ships will include the Kirov class nuclear battle cruiser, Peter the Great, about the size of a light carrier.
Hatches on the main deck include 20 SSN-19 long range anti ship missiles