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US condemns Russian troop deployments in Venezuela

U.S. Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo participates in a press conference with U.S. President Donald J. Trump during the NATO Foreign Ministerial in Brussels, Belgium on July 12, 2018. (U.S. State Department)

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.

Washington has condemned Russia’s deployment of military forces in Venezuela, with senior U.S. officials saying the presence of Russian troops there is destabilizing a country that already faces a political and economic crisis.

“We strongly caution actors external to the Western hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations,” U.S. national-security adviser John Bolton said in a statement released by the White House on March 29.

Speaking to reporters at the State Department after Bolton’s statement was released, U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said the U.S. estimates there are about 100 Russian military personnel in Venezuela and that their presence was “extremely pernicious.”

Abrams said Russian troops in Venezuela are primarily working on the country’s Russian-made S-300 air defense systems, which may have been damaged by recent widespread power outages.

Abrams also said the presence of several thousand Cubans, mainly in Venezuela’s intelligence services, was troubling.

As a result, Abrams said a “list of options” had been given to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for consideration.

“I would say that there are a lot of things we can do certainly in the area of diplomacy, but there are things we can do in economic terms, in terms of sanctions,” Abrams said. “I would just say that we have options and that it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand here — they don’t.”

The United States, Canada, and most of their European allies have been pressing Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s disputed president, to give up power — arguing that his reelection in 2018 was not legitimate.

Maduro is supported by his allies Russia, China, Iran, Syria, and Cuba.

President Donald Trump has joined more than 50 other countries that recognize the opposition leader in parliament, Juan Guaido, as interim president.

U.S. officials have in recent days stepped up their warnings to Russia about becoming involved militarily following the arrival in Caracas of Russian military planes carrying personnel and cargo.