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General Vasily Tonkoshkurov. Photo supplied

Russian military specialists and cargo arrive in Caracas

At a high-level meeting in Rome last week, Moscow signalled that it will not tolerate American military intervention to bring about regime change in Venezuela.

Published: March 28, 2019, 6:16 am

    Russian news agency TASS reported that the US is considering “all possible courses of action in order to make Russian troops leave Venezuela” according to statement by US President Donald Trump. The US leader met with the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido at the White House, Reuters reported.

    “Russia has to get out,” Trump warned. In response to a question about how Washington aims to accomplish this, the US leader said: “We’ll see. All options are open.”

    The ad hoc meeting in the Italian capital took place between US “special envoy” on Venezuelan affairs Elliot Abrams and Russia’s deputy foreign minister Sergei Ryabkov. Abrams is a regime-change specialist and the most recent target of the Russian prankster duo Lexus and Vovan.

    Venezuela has been suffering from civilian power blackouts that the Kremlin has blamed on American cyber sabotage. The power grid outage followed a failed attempt by Washington to stage a provocation over humanitarian aid deliveries last month at the Colombian border.

    Washington has recently evacuated its last remaining diplomats from the South American country after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that US personnel on the ground “was limiting” Washington’s options. Also, American Airlines has reportedly cancelled all its services to Venezuela.

    After the Rome meeting, Ryabkov said: “We assume that Washington treats our priorities seriously, our approach and warnings.” Russia has denounced the US-backed coup against Caracas.

    A Russian military contingent has meanwhile arrived in Venezuela over the weekend. The US government has condemned the arrival of special forces including “cybersecurity personnel”, a US official told Reuters on Tuesday. Washington has called the arrival of military specialists a “reckless escalation” of the US-induced crisis in Venezuela.

    Russian cybersecurity specialists accompanying the mission suggest that they may be deployed for surveillance as well as protection of the government’s cyber infrastructure.

    According to journalist Javier I Mayorca, Colonel General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of the Main Staff of the Ground Forces – First Deputy Commander-in-Chief of the Land Forces of Russia, has arrived in Venezuela.

    Two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying Russian military specialists, according to local media reports, two months after Trump disavowed elected Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela’s government has confirmed two planes landed from Russia at the weekend and were authorized by Maduro but has given no more details.

    The American official, speaking to Reuters on condition of anonymity, said the United States was still assessing the Russian deployment. But the Trump administration has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president and demands that Maduro step down.

    “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything,” Trump had already warned in a speech at Florida International University in Miami on 18 February.

    The Antonov-124 transport and Ilyushin-62 passenger jet landed in Caracas with 99 Russian troops and technical specialists and 35 tons of equipment. The group arrived at the Maiquetia airport, under the command of the defense minister and were received on the presidential ramp by the director of International Affairs and Integration. Staff of the Russian embassy were also in the reception.

    The Russian General was reportedly received by the Director General of the Office of Integration and International Affairs, Vide Admiral Marianny Mata Quijada, and by the Director of FAES (Venezuela’s Special Forces Unit), Edgar Colina Reyes.

    The El Comercio newspaper earlier reported on the arrival of an Antonov An-124 and an Ilyushin Il-62 aircraft carrying Russian troops and cargo in the Venezuelan capital on March 23.

    The group may not only be assisting in conducting counterterrorist operations against mercenaries in the country associated with Guaido but also deploy specialists to train and assist the recent Venezuelan S-300 deployments at an airbase south of Caracas.

    Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov has scheduled coordination meetings in Moscow on 3 April to sign some 20 accords in the fields of defense, energy, the economy, trade and education with Venezuela. It appears that Moscow will not sit around and wait for the crisis to escalate as in Ukraine and Syria.

    Members of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled parliament are have demanded the withdrawal of Russian military from the country, lawmaker Sirit Eliezer told a parliamentary session on Tuesday.

    “We join lawmaker Marquina’s demand that Juan Guaido [who declared himself Venezuela’s acting president] as a commander in chief order those people, who trespassed on Venezuela’s territory, to leave immediately,” adding that only parliament had the authority to invite foreign armed forces.

    But Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said that Russia was in strict compliance with the Venezuelan constitution, citing an agreement between the Russian government and the government of Venezuela on military-technical cooperation signed in May 2001

    “No additional authorization by Venezuela’s National Assembly is required for steps to develop bilateral military-technical cooperation taken within the framework of that agreement,” she pointed out.

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