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Russia ends Venezuela naval drill

Russian warship arrives in La Guaira port on 25 November 2008
Russia rejected claims the exercises were aimed at "third countries"

The Venezuelan and Russian navies have concluded joint exercises in the Caribbean Sea after just one day.

The operation, originally expected to take three days, marked the first time that the Russian fleet had been in the area since the end of the Cold War.

The exercises took place shortly after a visit to Venezuela by President Dmitry Medvedev of Russia.

One of the Russian ships, a destroyer, is now being sent to visit a naval base in Panama, the Russian Navy said.

About 1,600 Russian and 700 Venezuelan sailors on four Russian ships and 12 Venezuelan vessels took part in the VenRus 2008 joint exercise.

They had originally been scheduled to last three days, but both Venezuelan and Russian officials said the manoeuvres had been successfully completed in one day.

Ahead of the operation, Venezuelan and Russian officials rejected suggestions that they were aimed at "third countries".

Toll

Part of the Russian contingent, the destroyer Admiral Chabanenko, has now sailed on to Panama. It is expected to arrive on Friday at the "Rodman naval base", the Russian Navy announced.

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Panama has not used that name since it took over control of the base from the US in 1999 and it is now known as Balboa base.

It will be the first time a Russian warship has passed through the Panama Canal since World War II.

Panamanian officials said they would treat the Admiral Chabanenko as just another toll-paying ship, the Associated Press reported.

The US built the Panama Canal almost a century ago. Panama took control of the waterway in 1999.

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