Key point: Russia wanted to be able to spy on America and gain an advantage in case of war.
On December 10, 2018, two Russian Tu-160 supersonic bombers with huge condor-like swing-wings swooped down to land at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela. Over the next few days the huge, pointy-nosed bombers flew two ten-hour patrols over the Caribbean, at times escorted by Venezuelan F-16 and Su-30MK2 multirole jets, then flew back to Russia on Dec. 14. Russian media reported that Moscow and Caracas were discussing opening a permanent base on La Orchila island, expanding on facilities already present.
As discussed in this article by Michael Peck, the expense and escalatory political risks for the parties involved make such a move far from assured. In fact, the provocation itself may be more valuable than actually building such a bomber base.
Both Russia and the United States already routinely deploy bombers and spy planes on patrols skirting each other’s airspace for both political and military reasons. For example, Blackjack bombers had previously visited Caracas in 2008 and 2013, on the latter occasion conveying Moscow’s defiance of criticism of the Russo-Georgian War. In 2008-09, the Russian military also loudly aired the idea of basing nuclear bombers in Cuba or Venezuela.
However, the presence of Russian bombers in the Caribbean has a nearly fifty-year-old precedent, as detailed in this article by Ruben Urribarres and later expanded upon in a blog by Miguel Vargas-Caba.