Russia has stepped up its support of Venezuela in the latter’s diplomatic standoff with the United States.
Secret Russian military contractors traveled to Venezuela to provide security for President Nicolas Maduro as disgruntled Venezuelans continue protests in attempt to overthrow him, a movement now backed by the U.S., according to an exclusive Reuters report on Friday.
However, Russian security contractors in Venezuela may not be a new measure.
A source told Reuters of a “contingent” of Russian contractors in Venezuela, with no information as to how many or when they were installed.
Russian paramilitary group leader Yevgeny Shabayev told Reuters that he’d heard of “about 400” Russian contractors in Venezuela.
Woah… Exclusive: Kremlin-linked contractors help guard Venezuela’s Maduro – sources https://t.co/euQZeCs0iY
— Julia E. Ainsley (@JuliaEAinsley) January 25, 2019
The secret contractors are reportedly affiliated with the “Wagner group,” which provided security support in both Ukraine and Syria. However, both the Kremlin and the Wagner group have denied to confirm or deny information on the contractors.
Russia is an ally of Venezuela and the socialist Maduro, and has recently strengthened ties along with billions of dollars in funds to Venezuela. Recently, Russian officials have come forth with their support of Maduro, while denouncing the U.S. support of the opposition.
Andrei Klimov, deputy chairman of the Russian parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said, “I think that in this developing situation the United States is trying to carry out an operation to organize the next color revolution in Venezuela,” the Associated Press reported.
Vladimir Dzhabrailov, who also serves on the committee, reiterated the remarks, saying, “I do not think that we can recognize this — it is, in essence, a coup.”
President Trump officially recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as Venezuelan’s interim president this week. Guaido swore himself in as the temporary president after receiving support from Venezuelans, the U.S., U.K., Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, Paraguay and Peru.
Maduro has referred to the efforts as a coup attempt. He could take action against Guaido, but has not yet done so at this time. Instead, he has retaliated against the U.S. by declaring an end to diplomatic ties, giving U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, and announcing the closure of the U.S. embassy in Venezuela, and Venezuelan consulates in the U.S.
The U.S., however, has declared Maduro an illegitimate president without authority to make such declarations.
After initially refusing to withdraw U.S. diplomats, some “nonessential” U.S. personnel were have been recalled to the U.S., according to the Associated Press.
Both Russia and China have condemned the U.S. for interfering with Venezuelan relations.
“We warn everyone, not just the US, but some others that can entertain these ideas from this type of action,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told CNN.
“We hope to see Venezuela and the United States deal with bilateral relations based on equal treatment, mutual respect and noninterference in each other’s internal affairs,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.