Venezuela Tensions: US Warns Moscow Over Troops; Russia Accuses US of Attempted Coup

Patrick Goodenough | March 26, 2019 | 5:08pm EDT
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Russian President Vladimir Putin and Venezuela's Nicolas Maduro. (Photo: The Kremlin)

( – Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has warned Russia over the deployment of military personnel in crisis-hit Venezuela, telling his Russian counterpart in a phone conversation that the U.S. and other countries in the region “will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions” there.

Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, however, accused Washington of attempting to “organize a coup d’état” against what he called Venezuela’s “legitimate government.”

Weekend reports from Caracas said two Russian military aircraft – a cargo plane and passenger jet – had landed at the Maiquetia airport outside the capital, bringing tons of equipment and about 100 Russian troops.

Russia’s Sputnik state news agency then cited a “diplomatic source in Caracas” as saying there was “nothing mysterious” about the visit, which the source said related to military and technical cooperation contracts signed years ago.

State Department deputy spokesman Robert Palladino said Pompeo told Lavrov that the “continued insertion of Russian military personnel to support the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support interim President Juan Guaido.”

Palladino said Pompeo “called on Russia to cease its unconstructive behavior and join other nations, including the overwhelming majority of countries in the Western Hemisphere, who seek a better future for the Venezuelan people.”

But Russia’s foreign ministry said Lavrov told Pompeo “that Washington’s attempts to organize a coup d’état in Venezuela and threats against its legitimate government are in violation of the U.N. Charter, undisguised interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”

The U.S. and more than 50 other countries, including many in Latin America and Europe, have recognized Guaido, the head of the National Assembly, as interim president pending new elections.

A Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic bomber lands in Caracas, Venezuela on Dec. 10, 2018. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Russia, Cuba, China, and many others continue to recognize the Maduro regime.

In a symbolic and provocative move last December, Russia deployed two strategic bombers to Venezuela, where they conducted joint exercises over the Caribbean with Maduro regime air force planes.

‘The United States will not tolerate hostile foreign military powers …’

Responding to the weekend events, National Security Advisor John Bolton said Maduro was “growing even more reckless and isolating himself further.”

“The United States sends food and medicine to help the people of Venezuela. Rather than sending nuclear-capable bombers and special forces to prop up a corrupt dictator, Russia should work with the international community to support the Venezuelan people,” he tweeted.

“The United States will not tolerate hostile foreign military powers meddling with the Western Hemisphere’s shared goals of democracy, security, and the rule of law,” Bolton added. “The Venezuelan military must stand with the people of Venezuela.”

In response, the Maduro regime’s foreign minister, Jorge Arreaza, tweeted Monday that the U.S., with more than 800 military bases around the world and a growing military budget, “intends to interfere in” the Venezuela-Russia military technical cooperation program.

In another tweet, directed at his U.S. counterpart, Arreaza said Pompeo well knows that the only tensions in Venezuela are those that his government has generated through threats of use of force, the “criminal economic blockade,” and leading a failed coup d'état attempt.

The U.S. was not alone in its criticism of the Russian move.

The Organization of American States (OAS) secretariat said Monday it rejected the “Russian military incursion into Venezuelan territory,” which it said had not been authorized by the National Assembly in line with the country’s constitution, “and which was done in support of a government that has been declared illegitimate.”

“The presence of military personnel and military transport constitutes a harmful act to Venezuelan sovereignty,” it said in a statement.

The OAS secretariat said it was “unacceptable that a foreign government engages in military cooperation programs with a usurping regime that has been declared illegitimate by resolutions and Inter-American law, which also threatens hemispheric peace and security.”

‘Stay the course’

Last week, Pompeo said the Trump administration would “stay the course” in Venezuela, contrasting its approach to its predecessor’s response to the street protests – sometimes called the “green revolution” – that broke out after the disputed re-election of Mahmoud Ahmadinejad in 2009, and drew a violent crackdown.

“The Trump administration has behaved precisely the opposite of the way that the Obama administration behaved during the green effort in Iran,” he said in a Fox News interview, when asked about Venezuela today and Iran a decade ago.

“Instead of shunning the people, we have supported them,” he said. “Instead of denying the rights of the people of Iran, we’re supporting the rights of the people of Venezuela. We’re committed to this; we’re going to stay the course.”

(The non-partisan Council on Foreign Relations described President Obama’s initial response to the Iranian crackdown “muted.” Only ten days after it began did he condemn the violence explicitly for the first time.)

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