Russian ministry of defense announced that two Tu-160 bombers landed at the Libertador military airfield in Venezuela on September 10. According to an MoD report, the flight took 13 hours and the planes landed at 20:50 MSK (16:50 UTC, 12:20 local time). I'm wondering if it's the first time that Russian or the Soviet strategic bombers landed at a foreign airfield in the context of an exercise. Probably not, but it is certainly a very unusual step.

The goal of the visit is clearly to show the flag - there is little practical sense in deploying long-range bombers outside of national territory. But I would much rather see Russia (or any other state, for that matter) showing its flag in ways that would not involve nuclear-capable strategic bombers, even if they don't carry nuclear weapons (Russian bombers don't have nuclear weapons on board during peacetime).

UPDATE 09/20/08: The two bombers, "Aleksandr Molodchiy" and "Vladimir Sen'ko", returned to their base. According to official reports, the bombers took off from Caracas at 10:00 MSK (06:00 UTC, 01:30 local time) on September 18th and landed at the Engels air base about 15 hours later, at 01:16 MSK on September 19th (21:16 September 18 UTC). En route, the bombers performed refueling in air in what was said to be the first ever night-time aerial refueling of Russian (and apparently Soviet) strategic bombers.