MOSCOW — Russia continued its international muscle-flexing on Friday, strengthening its ties to Venezuela through a $1-billion military loan and a new oil consortium as it announced an upgrade of its own military focusing on nuclear deterrence and permanent combat readiness.
After a military exercise on Friday in the southern city of Orenburg, Russian President Dmitry Medvedev declared that by 2020 Russia would construct new types of warships, including nuclear submarines carrying cruise missiles and an unspecified air and space defense system.
The moves point to continuing tension between Russia and the West after the five-day war in Georgia. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said in an interview with Reuters: "The balance of power in terms of nuclear deterrence is not going to be affected by those measures."
Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said at a Pentagon news conference that the current plans are consistent with Russian policy going "as far back as a couple of years."
But the war in Georgia clearly has reordered priorities. With Europe and the United States united in condemnation of Russia's military actions, Russian leaders began reaching out to countries like Venezuela, which are eager to provide a counterweight to U.S. power. On Thursday, Venezuela's president, Hugo Chavez, arrived.
On Friday, Medvedev said the conflict in August also proved "the acuteness" of Russia's need to modernize its military. Defense spending will increase by 26 percent next year, bringing it to 1.3-trillion rubles ($50-billion), its highest level since the collapse of the Soviet Union.
At a meeting with Chavez, Medvedev agreed to a form an energy consortium that would share resources to produce and sell oil and gas.
On Thursday, Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said Russia would consider working with Venezuela to build nuclear power facilities.