Russia has established a helicopter training center in Venezuela in the latest display of closer ties between the two nations.
Russia state-owned defense and tech conglomerate Rostec confirmed that the training center opened last week and was established to train Venezuelan pilots using Russia’s Mi-35M, Mi17V-5 and Mi-26T, and other Russian military helicopters, Reuters reported Tuesday.
“At present, Russian helicopters supplied to Venezuela not only take part in operations against smugglers, but also successfully perform aerial survey of wildfires, take part in rescue and evacuation missions in areas hit by natural disasters and deliver humanitarian cargo to remote regions of the country,” Rostec said in a statement reported by Russian news agency TASS.
— Reuters Venezuela (@ReutersVzla) April 2, 2019
Rostec added that the facility is an effort to strengthen military ties with Venezuela.
“Venezuela has been Russia’s largest Latin American partner in the field of military-technical cooperation,” it said.
The location of the new training center was not disclosed.
Just last week, Russia confirmed it sent two military transport planes filled with troops and equipment to Venezuela in accordance with a joint agreement.
Russia has repeatedly provided military equipment to Venezuela, such as fighter jets, tanks and defense systems. The United States has called this a “direct threat” to security in the region, though Russia has dismissed those concerns.
U.S. officials have been warning Russia against establishing a military presence in Venezuela and have called for Russian military personnel to leave the country.
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said, “Russia’s got to leave Venezuela.” He also said the country’s socialist president Nicolas Maduro “must also go,” and that it is the United States’ mission to see to that.
Pompeo reiterated President Donald Trump’s call for Russia’s exit that he made last week while meeting with the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“Russia has to get out,” Trump told reporters, adding that “all options are open” for making them leave.
— The Hill (@thehill) March 27, 2019
Guaido is recognized by many Venezuelans, the U.S. and more than 50 countries as the interim president of Venezuela.
Russia, however, has invested billions in Venezuela and continues to support Maduro.
In December 2018, a Russian news report said that Russia deployed TU-160 supersonic nuclear-capable bombers to La Orchila, a Venezuelan island with a military base and airfield, where they were working on establishing a Russian military base.
Venezuelan law reportedly prohibits foreign countries from establishing a military base on Venezuelan soil. However, Russia’s deployment of bombers to an already-established base is permitted on a “temporary” basis.