Russia to keep forces in Venezuela ‘as long as needed’

Maria Zakharova

Moscow. Russia says it will keep the roughly 100 servicemen it sent to Venezuela over the weekend, despite the US call for their removal. Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said on Thursday that the forces would remain in the Latin American country “for as long as needed.”

A Russian Air Force Antonov-124 cargo plane and a smaller Ilyushin Il-62 passenger jet brought the troops to Venezuela’s main airport outside the capital Caracas on Saturday.

“The presence of Russian specialists on Venezuelan territory is regulated by an agreement between the Russian and Venezuelan governments on military and technical cooperation that was signed in May 2001,” Zakharova said, adding, “Neither Russia nor Venezuela are provinces of the United States.”

In recent months, tensions have increased between Caracas and Washington with the US imposing sanctions on Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as well as his government.

In January, the US took the lead in recognizing Juan Guaido as Venezuela’s president after the head of the opposition-ruled Congress named himself the country’s interim chief executive. Washington has been pressuring other countries into following suit and has not ruled out using the military option to oust the government of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.

US President Donald Trump also recently received Guaido’s wife at the White House. Russia, China, and Cuba, however, back Maduro’s government in the face of the US pressure.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Washington of trying to “organize a coup d’etat” in Venezuela.

Venezuela’s military attache in Moscow was quoted by AFP as saying on Thursday that Russian troops were in the country under an agreement on military and technical cooperation and not to carry out a military operation.

“As for the presence of Russian specialists, we are talking about cooperation, military and technical cooperation,” the attache, Jose Rafael Torrealba Perez said, adding, “We are absolutely not talking about Russia’s military presence to carry out military operations.”

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