Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told his Russian counterpart Monday that the United States “will not stand idly by” if Russia continues to send military personnel to Venezuela to prop up President Nicolás Maduro, the State Department said.
Pompeo’s telephone call with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov followed weekend reports that at least two Russian air force planes carrying a senior defense official and about 100 troops landed at Venezuela’s main airport Saturday, Washington Post reported.
The United States and dozens of other countries in January recognized Juan Guaidó, the head of Venezuela’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, as interim president, but Maduro has managed to hold on to power.
U.S. frustration with the situation has grown as efforts to persuade the Venezuelan military to switch sides and support Guaidó have produced few results, even as thousands of anti-Maduro protesters have taken to the streets amid severe shortages of food, water and medical care.
The military and pro-Maduro paramilitary groups have escalated the use of force against the Guaidó supporters. The Trump administration has accused Russia and Cuba, Maduro’s main backers, of intervening to keep him in power.
“The continued insertion of Russian military personnel to support” Maduro “risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support” Guaidó, the U.S. statement said. Pompeo, it said, called on Russia, to “cease its unconstructive behavior and join other nations . . . who seek a better future for the Venezuelan people.”
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov had complained of “attempts by Washington to organize a coup d’etat in Venezuela” during the telephone conversation with Pompeo, Radio Liberty reported. The statement said such moves “constitute violations of the UN charter and undisguised interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”
Separately, Nikolai Patrushev, head of the state security council, accused the Trump administration of acting to “promote U.S. economic interests” and “take over Venezuelan oil,” according to an interview with the Izvestia newspaper published Monday. Last month, Patrushev charged that the United States was deploying troops to Colombia and Puerto Rico ahead of a planned military intervention to topple Maduro, the Post added.
Trump has repeatedly said that “all options,” including military intervention, are on the table in dealing with Venezuela. But administration officials have said that there are no current plans to use military force and that U.S. policy is focused on diplomatic and economic pressure through escalating sanctions. Earlier this month, the administration evacuated U.S. diplomatic personnel from Venezuela.
There have been a number of unconfirmed reports in recent weeks of Russian military and contract soldiers appearing in Venezuela. On Saturday, a local reporter in Caracas, Javier Mayorca, wrote on Twitter that a plane carrying about 100 troops and Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the Russian ground forces, landed in Caracas. It was followed by a cargo plane carrying 35 tons of materiel, he wrote.
Meanwhile, Russia’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement that Lavrov had complained of “attempts by Washington to organize a coup d’etat in Venezuela” during the telephone conversation with Pompeo.
The statement said such moves “constitute violations of the UN charter and undisguised interference in the internal affairs of a sovereign state.”