(Reuters) - Russia is taking a greater interest in Latin America, a strategy that analysts and diplomats say has more to do with selling arms to the region than with flexing its muscles under the nose of the United States.
Here are some of the ways in which the Kremlin has stepped up its activities in the region over the past few months:
* Russia sent two long-range Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela in September on what it said was a training mission.
* Russia announced in September it was sending its nuclear-powered battle cruiser “Peter the Great,” a destroyer and other vessels to the Caribbean for joint exercises with the Venezuelan navy.
Two days earlier, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev had complained about U.S. warships delivering aid to Georgia. He asked how Washington would feel “if we now dispatched humanitarian assistance to the Caribbean... using our navy.”
* Russia and Venezuela have signed 12 arms contracts worth $4.4 billion over the past two years, a Kremlin source said. Moscow announced in September it was providing Caracas with $1 billion in credit for more weapons purchases.
* Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez visited Russia in July and again at the end of September. On his second visit, Russia said it was ready to consider helping Venezuela develop a civilian nuclear power program.
* Medvedev will visit Venezuela in November on a Latin American tour that will also include stops in Brazil and Peru.
* Russian First Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin, viewed by Kremlin watchers as a leading hawk, has made several visits to Venezuela at the head of high-powered Russian trade delegations.
* Russia sent aid to Cuba after the island was devastated by Hurricane Gustav in September, the first such mission since the collapse of the Soviet Union, once Cuba’s main benefactor.
* Nikolai Patrushev, the former head of Russia’s domestic intelligence agency and now Secretary of Russia’s Security Council, joined Sechin on a visit to Havana in August that was billed as boosting economic ties.
* Lieutenant General Alexander Maslov, chief of Russia’s tactical air defense headquarters, visited Cuba this week. A Russian military spokesman said the trip was to share expertise with the Cuban armed forces.
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