In a signal that Russian President Vladimir Putin is expanding his ambitions for international ascendancy, Russia has been sending navy ships and long-range bombers to Latin America.
News of the moves emerged as international pressure on Russia continued to intensify over its decision to annex Crimea.
Putin, however, mocked President Barack Obama's announcement of sanctions against the country, saying he plans to open an account at the U.S.-sanctioned Rossiya Bank,
reports RT, the Russia-based television network.
"I've already said that I was going to open an account in this bank, more than that I asked for my salary to be transferred to this account," RT reported Putin as saying.
Recent reports indicate that Russia is planning to establish military bases in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. According to The Hill, Putin's national security team met last week
to discuss increasing military ties to the region.
"They're on the march," Sen. Joe Donnelly, an Indiana Democrat, said at a Senate hearing earlier this month, The Hill reported. "They're working the scenes where we can't work. And they're doing a pretty good job."
At the same hearing, Gen. John Kelly, commander of U.S. Southern Command, said there has been a "noticeable uptick in Russian power projection and security force personnel" in Latin America.
"It has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian military presence," Kelly said, according to The Hill.
The collapse of the Soviet Union in the early 1990s led to a decade of retrenchment for the Russian military.
But Putin for years has been cultivating relationships with South American nations, including Argentina, whose president, Cristina Fernandez, last week lauded Russia's move in Crimea, comparing it to her country's claim to the Falkland Islands
, Breitbart reported.
Some foreign relations experts believe, however, that Russia's moves in Latin America are largely symbolic.
"I don't see [Russia venturing militarily into Latin America] as really likely," Adam Isacson, defense and security specialist at the human rights organization Washington Office on Latin America, told Fox News Latino
"It could be a goad to the U.S., or an attempt to show the world Russia is no longer a declining military power. Beyond the symbolic level, it may be an attempt to promote arms sales — Russia has been the top vendor of armaments in Latin America for the last couple of years thanks to huge sales to Venezuela."
Meanwhile, Obama this week announced the most comprehensive sanctions against Russia since the end of the Cold War, freezing the U.S. assets
of a number of Russian officials, including top advisers to President Vladimir Putin, for Russia's of Crimea's vote to secede from Ukraine.
In addition, the sanctions would make it hard for anyone on the list to benefit from the international banking system and block their travel to the United States.
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