President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and said that “all options” were open to make that happen, Reuters informs. The arrival of two Russian air force planes outside Caracas on Saturday believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel has escalated the political crisis in Venezuela.
Russia and China have backed President Nicolas Maduro, while the United States and most other Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January, Guaido invoked the constitution to assume Venezuela’s interim presidency, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
“Russia has to get out,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales. Maduro, who retains control of state functions and the country’s military, has said Guaido is a puppet of the United States.
Earlier on Wednesday, Vice President Mike Pence also addressed Saturday’s arrival of the Russian planes.
“The United States views Russia’s arrival of military planes this weekend as an unwelcome provocation and we call on Russia today to cease all support for the (Nicolas) Maduro regime, and stand with Guaido, stand with nations across this hemisphere and around the world until freedom is restored,” Pence said, CNN reported.
While the Trump administration made a bold declaration by recognizing Guaido as the acting leader of Venezuela, Russia has continued to back embattled Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro. Russia has bilateral relations and agreements with Venezuela and Maduro that it plans to honor, Russia’s deputy U.N. ambassador, Dmitry Polyanskiy, said on Twitter.
A spokeswoman for Russia’s Foreign Ministry, Maria Zakharova, said the United States should pull troops from Syria before telling Moscow to withdraw from Venezuela, Reuters adds.
“Before giving advice to somebody to withdraw from somewhere, the United States should bring to life its own concept of exodus, particularly from Syria,” Zakharova said, speaking on Russia’s state Channel One, TASS agency quoted her as saying.
Venezuela’s economy is in tatters with food and medicine in short supply due to years of hyperinflation. In addition, citizens are now grappling with power blackouts that experts have blamed on years of neglect and maintenance.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela, known as PDVSA, to try to cut off revenues to Maduro. Oil provides 90 percent of export revenue for Venezuela, an OPEC member. Trump has said tougher sanctions are still to come.