This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. President Donald Trump says he will “probably” talk to Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping about the situation in Venezuela, which finds Washington on the opposite side of the crisis from Moscow and Beijing.
“We will probably be talking at some point,” Trump told reporters on March 29.
“I’ll be talking to a lot of people — perhaps President Putin, perhaps President Xi of China,” Trump said.
The Kremlin said on March 30 that the United States had not yet requested a phone call with Putin to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
Trump’s comments came as Washington 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.
U.S. special envoy for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said Washington estimates there are about 100 Russian military personnel in Venezuela and that their presence is “extremely pernicious.”
Abrams said Russian troops in Venezuela were primarily working on the country’s Russian-purchased S-300 air-defense systems, which may have been damaged by recent widespread power outages.
The Russian Interfax news agency said that a helicopter training center built with Moscow’s support opened in Venezuela on March 29.
The center allows Venezuelan pilots to be trained to operate Mil Mi-17V-5, Mi-35M, and Mi-26T helicopters, Interfax quoted a spokesman for Russia’s Rosoboroneksport, which participated in building the center, as saying
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.”
Bolton told Reuters TV that the president was considering imposing sanctions on companies from other countries that do business with Venezuela to help cut off funds to embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro.
“We’re moving exactly in that direction,” Bolton said when asked whether Trump would consider what are known as “secondary sanctions.”
“We are even now looking at a series of additional steps we could take,” Bolton added.
The United States, Canada, and most of their European allies have been pressing Maduro 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.
Trump has joined more than 50 other countries that recognize the opposition leader in parliament, Juan Guaido, as interim president.