Moscow (CNSNews.com) – Accusing the United States of “destabilizing” Venezuela, Russian Minister of Defense Sergei Shoigu has pledged that Moscow will continue supporting the Maduro regime as it resists “U.S. attempts to change the legitimately elected government.”
“We are closely following the events taking place in Venezuela,” the state-run TASS news agency quoted Shoigu as saying at a press conference in Moscow late last week, alongside his Venezuelan counterpart, General Vladimir Padrino Lopez.
“We note the unprecedented pressure of Washington aimed at destabilizing the situation in your country,” Shoigu said. “We support the efforts of the republic’s leadership in pursuing an independent foreign policy and resisting U.S. attempts to change the legitimately elected government.”
The U.S. and more than 50 other countries have withdrawn their recognition of Nicolas Maduro’s socialist government, and view National Assembly head Juan Guaido as the country’s acting president. Russia, by contrast, has emerged as a leading supporter of Maduro.
Shoigu and Lopez at the press conference announced a new agreement providing for their countries to send warships to each other’s ports.
Padrino’s visit came at a time of growing military ties between Moscow and Caracas. Russia sent two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela late last year for joint military exercises. In March, two planes carrying a senior Russian military officials, 35 tons of equipment, and 100 troops landed at an airport outside of Caracas.
When the Russian arrived Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in a phone call that “the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela.”
The Kremlin insisted its military personnel in Venezuela were simply specialists tasked with honoring a pre-existing arms contract.
As the Venezuelan crisis continues, Russian and Venezuelan officials in recent months have publicly discussed the possibility of increasing military cooperation. During a trip to Moscow in May, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza told reporters the number Russian military specialists in Venezuela “could be expanded.”
Last month Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov also floated the prospect of greater Russian military support for Venezuela, stating, “We will continue to implement projects in various areas, to hold events within the existing agreements that would strengthen the military potential of this country’s armed forces.”
Moscow military and economic support for Caracas predates the political crisis, and as of 2013 it had provided Venezuela with $11 billion worth of arms. Russian state oil giant Rosneft has reportedly invested $9 billion in Venezuela since 2010.
For its part, Venezuela has consistently backed Russia in heated geopolitical disputes with the West. It was one of the few countries to recognize the “independence” of the Moscow-backed Georgian breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia in 2009 and Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014.
At speech in Peru on August 6, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton announced that the U.S. would impose new sanctions on Russia and China in response to their aid to the Maduro regime.
“To both Russia and China, we say that your support to the Maduro regime is intolerable, particularly to the democratic regime that will replace Maduro,” Bolton said.