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Not long after a series of large and complex air exercises across the European continent, the Russian defense ministry declared Wednesday it will expand its long-range aviation patrols in the Western Hemisphere to include international airspace in and around the Gulf of Mexico. In an announcement in Moscow, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu declared long-range aviation units, such as Tu-95 strategic bombers, would expand their exercises to include areas over the Arctic and the Western Hemisphere. Shoigu declared previously that Russia is negotiating basing and refueling access rights to airfields in Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua to support such exercises. The announcement comes on the heels of sharp criticism of Russia’s activities in the Ukraine, as well as criticism over recent exercises involving strategic bombers over Europe, which NATO Supreme Allied Commander USAF Gen. Philip Breedlove called overt acts attempting to message the US and its allies on Russia’s military reach and influence.