A senior Venezuelan official has confirmed that two Russian planes have landed in the country after authorization by President Nicolas Maduro.
The vice president of the Socialist Party, Diosdado Cabello, said the planes were in Venezuela “because they were authorized by the only government that there is in Venezuela, and it’s called the government of [President] Nicolas Maduro.”
Cabello made the remarks in a speech broadcast on state television on Monday, without providing further details.
His emphasis on the legitimate government in Venezuela was because an opposition figure, Juan Guaido, has declared himself “interim president” of the country and has been attempting to shore up international support for a “government” of his own.
Sputnik had earlier quoted a diplomatic source in Caracas as telling the Russian new agency that a group of Russian military personnel had arrived in Venezuela for “bilateral consultations” related to “contracts… on military and technical cooperation.”
An independent Venezuela journalist, Javier Mayorca, also wrote in a Twitter message that a Russian Air Force Antonov-124 cargo plane and a smaller jet, apparently an Ilyushin Il-62, had landed in the country on Saturday.
Mayorca claimed the aircraft brought around 100 Russian soldiers led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, the head of the Mobilization Directorate of Russia’s armed forces, and disembarked 35 tons of equipment.
Social media, nonetheless, picked up the information along with a picture (seen below) purportedly showing a Russian-flagged aircraft and Russian troops at a Caracas airport.
Immediately afterwards, the United States accused Russia of the “reckless escalation” of the situation in Venezuela, which has plunged into political chaos since US-backed Guaido declared himself “interim president” late in January.
“The United States condemns Russia’s deployment of military aircraft and personnel to Caracas, which is another contradiction of both Nicolas Maduro’s and Russia’s calls for non-intervention in Venezuela and is a reckless escalation of the situation,” said a State Department spokesman.”
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also spoke on the phone with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, accusing Moscow of “non-constructive behavior.”