Two Russian planes transporting nearly 100 troops, equipment, and a defense official arrived in Venezuela over the weekend, prompting condemnation from the United States.
According to a report from Reuters, an Ilyushin IL-62 jetliner and an Antonov AN-124 cargo aircraft landed in Maiquieta airport in Caracas on Saturday. The planes were carrying around 100 troops, 35 tons of equipment, and Col. General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, the chief of the General Staff of the Ground Forces.
An anonymous Venezuelan official told AP News that the purpose of the visit was to discuss equipment maintenance, training, and strategy.
However, the Kremlin has yet to confirm the presence of Russian troops. Dmitry Peskov, press secretary to Russian President Vladimir Putin, referred a group of journalists to the Ministry of Defense when asked about the matter, RIA Novosti reported.
“I have never heard of a military delegation going to another country for a standard bilateral visit with an entourage of around 100 people, so I would say this is significant,” Wilder Alejandro Sanchez, an analyst of defense and geopolitical affairs in the Western Hemisphere, told CNSNews.com.
“It makes sense that Maduro will want to share with Moscow the latest developments regarding ongoing tensions with Washington, and I assume some of the visiting military personnel will provide advice to Venezuelan troops as well – and again, we don’t know who exactly the visiting troops are,” he added.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov regarding the arrival of Russian troops to Caracas.
A State Department press release states that Pompeo warned Lavrov that the “United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela.”
Ted Galen Carpenter, a senior fellow for defense and foreign policy studies at the Cato Institute, predicted that Moscow’s involvement in Venezuela will backfire.
“Russia is unwisely meddling in the Western hemisphere and will run afoul of the Monroe Doctrine if it continues on this course. Both the United States and Russia should back off on their respective spheres of influence,” he said.
Moscow and Caracas have longstanding defense ties. Since 2005, Venezuela has been a major purchaser of Russian arms. Last December, Russia sent two Tu-160 bombers, which are capable of transporting nuclear weapons, to participate in a joint military exercise with Venezuela.