(CNSNews.com) – The foreign ministry in Moscow pushed back Thursday at President Trump’s demand that Russia “get out” of Venezuela, questioning why the U.S. is so worried about the arrival of Russian troops in the Latin American country when “we are waiting for Trump’s pledge to withdraw his personnel from Syria to be realized.”
At a press briefing, ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova described remarks by Trump and other administration officials as “an arrogant attempt to dictate to two sovereign states the way they should build their relations.”
“I would like to remind you that proconsuls were appointed in ancient Rome to govern the provinces,” she said. “Neither Russia nor Venezuela is a U.S. province.”
Zakharova wondered why there had been “such a tantrum around the world” over the presence in Venezuela of “Russian specialists,” saying they had been deployed there at its government’s request, in line with a 2001 bilateral military-technical cooperation agreement.
Two Russia military aircraft landed in Caracas last Saturday, carrying roughly 100 Russian troops and 35 tons of cargo.
Zakharova said the Russian troops would remain there “as long as the Venezuelan government needs them,” and that it wasn’t Russia that was “tipping the balance in the region.”
“Russia is not threatening anybody unlike certain Washington, D.C., residents whose statements I have just quoted,” she added, in reference to Trump, Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Asked at the White House on Wednesday about complications posed by the Russians’ presence in Venezuela, Trump was blunt.
“Russia has to get out,” he told reporters. “What’s your next question?”
Asked how the U.S. would get the Maduro regime “out,” Trump replied, “We’ll see. All options are open. All – just so you understand, all options are open.”
“Does that mean military action?” a reporter asked.
“All options are open,” the president repeated.
Trump was speaking while meeting in the Oval Office with Fabiana Rosales, wife of Venezuelan National Assembly head Juan Guaido – the man whom the U.S. and more than 50 other countries recognize as Venezuela’s interim president, pending new elections.
‘A springboard for aggressive intervention’
At the press conference in Moscow, Zakharova reiterated Russia’s view that Nicolás Maduro is the only legitimate leader of Venezuela.
“There are no authorities in Venezuela except President Nicolas Maduro’s government,” she said. “Mr. Guaido can claim to be whoever he wants.”
Dismissing Guaido as an “imposter,” Zakharova spoke of the “need to put an end to the global international bullying of the legally-elected president.”
The ministry spokeswoman also voiced concern about a recent agreement between the U.S. and the Netherlands for the island of Curaçao to be used as a staging post for humanitarian aid for Venezuela.
(Maduro has refused to allow entry to U.S. aid, stockpiled on Venezuela’s borders, and Russia has echoed his claims that the aid is part of a U.S. plot aimed at his overthrow.)
Zakharova said while the stated aim of using Curaçao was a humanitarian one, the agreement does not rule out the possibility that non-civilian delivery methods could be used – “clearly, military ones.”
The Netherlands, she charged, “has in fact given the Americans a free hand to use its former colony as a springboard for aggressive intervention in Venezuela’s affairs under the cover of humanitarian slogans.”
Curaçao, the largest of the Dutch Antilles islands, is located about 40 miles off Venezuela's northern Caribbean coast.
During a visit to the island last month, USAID administrator Mark Green and Curaçao Prime Minister Eugene Rhuggenaath discussed allowing “the U.S. government to pre-position civilian humanitarian assistance for Venezuela in private warehouses in Curaçao.”
Two weeks ago, Rhuggenaath and visiting U.S. Ambassador to the Netherlands Pete Hoekstra signed an agreement on the use of facilities in Curaçao as a humanitarian hub for assistance to the Venezuelan people.
The Lima Group – a grouping of 13 Western Hemisphere nations concerned about the crisis in Venezuela – voiced concern about the arrival of Russian troops, saying in a statement its members “once again condemn any provocation or military deployment which threatens peace and security in the region.”
The group also repeated its call “on the countries that still maintain cooperation ties with Nicolás Maduro’s illegitimate regime to help facilitate the search for solutions with a view to making way for the restoration of democracy and constitutional order in Venezuela.”
Earlier, the secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS) said it rejected the “Russian military incursion into Venezuelan territory,” calling the presence of troops and military transports “a harmful act to Venezuelan sovereignty.”