- The Washington Times - Friday, October 4, 2019

The head of U.S. military operations in Central and South America warned Friday that Russian and Chinese influence in the region is expanding with the goal of undercutting Washington’s interests and alliances.

“They’re there. They’re present, and they’re working for their national interests in ways that are 100 percent counter to the longterm stability in the region,” Adm. Craig S. Faller, commander of the Pentagon’s U.S. Southern Command, told reporters at a breakfast meeting in Washington.

Russia is trying to “hang on” to some of the traditional alliances it had in the region before the break up of the Soviet Union, Adm. Faller said.

“I’m convinced Russia is out to make the United States look bad at every turn,” he said.

Moscow has set up a military training base in Nicaragua and is helping to prop up the regime of Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro, including providing technical support for Caracas’ Russian-made combat aircraft, Adm. Faller said.

His comments came a few months after a July announcement by Pentagon officials that one of those Russian-maintained Venezuelan fighters — an SU-30 Flanker — had “aggressively shadowed” a U.S. Navy EP-3 Aries II reconnaissance aircraft flying in international airspace.

“The Venezuelan pilot was very unsafe, very unprofessional [and] flew at a very close distance,” Adm. Faller said on Friday. “We reported that before they had a chance to spin it in a way that was not accurate.”

Russia has separately deployed nuclear-capable bombers and its most advanced warships, able to fire nuclear cruise missiles, in the region over the past year.

“There are hundreds of Russian contractors and forces in Venezuela as we speak,” Adm. Faller said.

China, meanwhile, has what Adm. Faller characterized as “legitimate economic interests” in the region, although Beijing is also increasing its military footprint to include constructing military training centers and providing weapons.

“They’re also just ‘gifting’ gear to various countries,” Adm. Faller said.

The United States is continuing to work alongside countries in the region to preserve long-term stability and counter the malign influence of Russia and China, he said.

“It’s our shared neighborhood,” he said. “This is what the future is going to be — working together.”

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