This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
A Venezuelan official has told the Associated Press that two Russian Air Force planes arrived in Caracas over the weekend as part of military cooperation between the two countries.
The official on March 24 appeared to confirm media reports that said Russian military jets carrying defense officials and nearly 100 troops had landed in the South American country on March 23.
A journalist with AFP reported seeing one of the planes on the tarmac at Maiquetia Airport, with a Russian flag on its fuselage and being protected by Venezuelan National Guardsmen.
The Venezuelan official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Russian military officials have come to discuss equipment maintenance, training, and strategy.
In December, Russia’s Defense Ministry sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Venezuela in an unusual display of Russian military force in South America — a move that angered the United States and many other regional countries.
The Russian ministry at the time said the two Tu-160 bombers had arrived at an airport outside of Caracas on December 10. The statement did not say if they were carrying weapons.
The bombers’ arrival came just days after President Nicolas Maduro visited Moscow, seeking Kremlin support for his country, whose economy is in shambles and which is deeply in debt to Russia.
Moscow supports Maduro in his tense battle for control of the Venezuelan government with opposition figure and self-declared interim President Juan Guaido, who is backed by Washington and many European countries.