Russia warships in Venezuela for exercise .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:none; color:#000000;} .hurriyet2008-detailbox-newslink:hover { font-family: Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif; font-size:13px; font-weight:bold; text-decoration:underline; color:#990000;} LA GUAIRA - Russian warships sailed into port in Venezuela in a show of strength as Moscow seeks to counter U.S. influence in Latin America.

Russia's first such deployment in the Caribbean since the Cold War is timed to coincide with President Dmitry Medvedev's visit to Venezuela, the first ever by a Russian president.

Russian sailors dressed in black-and-white uniforms lined up along the bow of the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko as it docked in La Guaira, near Caracas, and Venezuelan troops greeted them with cannons in a 21-gun salute. Two support vessels also docked, and the nuclear-powered cruiser Peter the Great, Russia's largest navy ship, anchored offshore.

Opposition to US

Chavez, basking in the support of a powerful ally and traditional U.S. rival, wants Russian help to build a nuclear reactor, invest in oil and natural gas projects and bolster his leftist opposition to U.S. influence in the region.

Russia's ambitions in Latin America, however, may be checked by global events. Both Venezuela and Russia are feeling the pinch of slumping oil prices, and their ability to be major benefactors for like-minded leaders is in doubt given the pressures of the world's financial crisis.

The deployment of the naval squadron is widely seen as a demonstration of Kremlin anger over the U.S. decision to send warships to deliver aid to Georgia after its battles with Russia, and over U.S. plans for a European missile-defense system.

But U.S. officials mocked the show of force. "Are they accompanied by tugboats this time?" U.S. State Department spokesman Sean McCormack joked to reporters in Washington. He noted that Russia's navy is but a shadow of its Soviet-era fleet. "I don't think there's any question about ... who the region looks to in terms of political, economic, diplomatic and as well as military power," he said.

The ship maneuvers inside Venezuela's economic zone in the eastern Caribbean will begin Dec. 1, enabling sailors to practice reconnaissance, anti-drug patrols, anti-terrorism and search and rescue operations.