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Two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers returned to their
Two Russian Tu-160 Blackjack strategic bombers returned to their base in central Russia early on Friday after a 15-hour flight home from Venezuela, a Russian Air Force spokesman said. (Russian strategic bombers - Image gallery)

"After a 15-hour flight two Tu-160 strategic bombers landed at their home base in Engels at 01.16 Moscow time on Friday [09.16 GMT Thursday], Lt. Col. Vladimir Drik said.

The bombers arrived in Venezuela on September 10 and were accompanied by NATO fighters during their 13-hour flight to the South American country.

According to Drik, the bombers were carrying dummy missiles without warheads and their primary mission was to practice patrol sorties in a tropical climate.

The journey back to Russia was the longest flight in the history of Russian strategic patrols, and was conducted over neutral waters in the Atlantic and the Arctic oceans. During the flight, the aircraft conducted night-time aerial refueling for the first time in recent years.

Commenting on the results of the patrol mission, the deputy commander of the Russian Air Force's strategic aviation, Maj. Gen. Alexander Afinogentov said the experience of the mission would help reassess the capabilities of Tu-160 bombers and hone the crews' skills in prolonged instrumental flights.

Russia resumed strategic bomber patrol flights over the Pacific, Atlantic and Arctic oceans last August, following an order signed by then-president Vladimir Putin. Russian bombers have since carried out more than 90 strategic patrol flights and have often been escorted by NATO planes.

Russia has repeatedly stated that all strategic patrol have been performed in strict accordance with international rules on the use of airspace over neutral waters, without violating the borders of other states.

In addition, Russia's Foreign Ministry earlier said that the landing of strategic bombers in Venezuela did not mean that Russia had established a military base in the South American country.

"Russia does not have military bases in Latin America," Andrei Nesterenko, a spokesman for the Foreign Ministry said. "The landing at the Venezuelan airbase was carried out in line with prior agreements between Russia and Venezuela."

U.S. State Secretary Condoleezza Rice was biting in her remarks on Thursday concerning a patrol carried out along the South American coast by the Russian bombers during their mission.

"We are confident that our ties with our neighbors ... will in no way be diminished by a few aging Blackjack bombers visiting one of Latin America's few autocracies," she said.

The Tu-160 supersonic bomber (INFOgraphics , VIDEO) with variable geometry wings has been manufactured since 1984 and was adopted by the Air Force in 1987.

The bomber is designed to strike strategic targets with nuclear and conventional weapons deep in continental theatres of operation.

The aircraft has all-weather, day-and-night capability and can operate at all geographical latitudes. Its two internal rotary launchers can each hold 6 Raduga Kh-55 cruise missiles or 12 Raduga Kh-15 short-range nuclear missiles.

Russia currently has 16 modernized Tu-160 bombers in service with the strategic aviation. They feature a new set of fire-control systems, overhauled navigation equipment and avionics.

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