EU frowns, US roars as Russian troops start arriving in Venezuela

A Russian plane in Venezuela‘s capital, Caracas. [Photo: @TomoNewsUS Twitter]

Russia said on Thursday (28 March) it had sent “specialists” to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal but said they posed no threat to regional stability, brushing aside a call from US President Donald Trump to remove all military personnel from the country.

“The situation in Venezuela is very polarised and tense. All actions and gestures that further escalate tensions will only create obstacles to a peaceful, democratic and Venezuelan-owned resolution to this crisis”, Commission spokesperson Carlos Martin Ruiz de Gordejuela said.

He answered a question about the recent news about Russian planes and military personnel arriving outside the Venezuelan capital, Caracas.

US calls Russia deployment of planes to Venezuela 'reckless escalation'

The United States on Monday accused Russia of “reckless escalation” of the situation in Venezuela by deploying military planes and personnel to the crisis-stricken South American nation that Washington has hit with crippling sanctions.

Trump said on Wednesday that “all options” were open to make Moscow pull troops out of Venezuela after two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops, according to media reports.

As Venezuela has descended into political turmoil this year, Russia has emerged as a staunch backer of President Nicolás Maduro while the United States backs the country’s opposition and has imposed sanctions.

Venezuela’s military attaché  in Moscow said on Thursday Russia had sent “servicemen” to Venezuela, but that they would not take part in military operations, Interfax news agency reported.

“The presence of Russian servicemen in Venezuela is linked to the discussion of cooperation in the military-technical sphere,” Jose Rafael Torrealba Perez was quoted as saying.

Speaking at a weekly news briefing on Thursday, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described the arrivals only as “Russian specialists”.

“Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region, Russia is not threatening anyone, unlike (officials) in Washington,” she told a weekly news briefing.

“Russian specialists have arrived in Venezuela in line with the provisions of a bilateral inter-government agreement on military-technical cooperation. No one canceled this document,” Zakharova said.

Russia and China have backed Maduro, while the United States and most other Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaidó.

In January, Guaidó invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.

Maduro, who retains control of state functions and the country’s military, has said Guaidó is a puppet of the United States.

EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini is in Quito, Ecuador, for a second ministerial meeting between EU and Latin American countries, aimed at helping deliver emergency humanitarian assistance, as well as helping to create conditions for a peace process to emerge, by holding free and transparent elections.

The contact group brings together France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Spain Sweden and the UK, as well as Bolivia, Costa Rica, Ecuador and Uruguay.

[Edited by Sam Morgan]

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