WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Russia is displaying its military power in America's back yard, sending a convoy of warships to Venezuela for joint naval exercises, the first such deployment since the Cold War.
The Kremlin is becoming increasingly cozy with Venezuela, Cuba and other Latin American countries unhappy with the United States, in apparent response to thorny issues such as U.S. missile defense plans in Eastern Europe, NATO's eastern expansion, and U.S. warships dispatched to Georgia.
"Some of this is the Russians wanting to get even. They see American warships close to their shore; they're going to put Russian warships close to us," said Russian military expert John Pike of globalsecurity.org.
The fleet of ships headed toward the Caribbean includes some of Russia's finest, like the nuclear-powered Peter the Great cruiser and the anti-submarine warship Admiral Chebanenko.
Pike said that while these vessels are impressive, they are no match for the American Navy and pose little threat to the United States.
"They have obsolete technology. They would simply be no match for American warships in a one-to-one combat," he said.
Nonetheless, this deployment adds to the tension created earlier this month when two Russian Tu-160 nuclear long-range bombers arrived in Venezuela, also for military exercises.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a vocal critic of the United States, greeted the Russian pilots with a blunt message for Washington.
"Venezuela is not alone! Russia is with us," he said. "They are our strategic partners. The Russian Tu-160 bombers on our land are a warning to the empire of the U.S.A.!"
Chavez is increasing Venezuela's ties with Russia. He arrived in Moscow on Thursday for his second trip there in the past two months. Russia, meanwhile, has sold Venezuela more than $4 billion in arms.
U.S. Defense Department spokesman Geoff Morrell says the Pentagon is not fazed.
"Russia is certainly within its rights to conduct exercises with its allies. What's the old saying? You're sort of known by the company you keep. If they wish to hang out with the Venezuelan navy, that's their business," he said.
But Russia knows the United States is watching, and that seems to be the idea, Pike said.
"The Russians, sort of from here on out, every couple months are going to come up with some sort of new event, some sort of new exercise, some sort of new provocation to keep us focused on them," he said
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