This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo pressed for Russia to “get out” of Venezuela, while his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, called on Washington to “abandon its irresponsible plans” in the Latin American country.
Pompeo and Lavrov spoke on May 5, ahead of their expected meeting in Finland this week amid simmering tensions between Moscow and Washington over the crisis in Venezuela.
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido declared himself Venezuela’s interim leader in January. As the head of the country’s opposition-controlled National Assembly, he invoked the constitution to assume an interim presidency, arguing that President Nicolas Maduro’s reelection last year was illegitimate.
Guaido is backed by more than 50 countries, including the United States. Russia, Iran, China, and Cuba are among countries supporting Maduro.
“The Russians must get out,” Pompeo told ABC television.
“I’m going to meet with Foreign Minister Lavrov in recent days. It’s very clear, we want the Russians out, we want the Iranians out, we want the Cubans out. It’s very clear,” he added.
Earlier in the day, Lavrov accused the United States of leading “an unprecedented campaign” to oust “Venezuela’s legitimate authorities.”
Speaking at a meeting in Moscow with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, Lavrov said: “It is only up to the Venezuelans to decide about the future of their country.”
“Attempts at a violent coup in Caracas have nothing to do with the democratic process and only frustrate prospects for political settlement of the crisis,” the Russian foreign minister added.
“We call on both the Americans and those who support them to drop irresponsible plans and act exclusively within the frames of international law,” Lavrov also said.
Moscow, which has substantial economic ties to Maduro’s government, sent planes to Venezuela in March, carrying nearly 100 military personnel who the U.S. government believes included special forces and cybersecurity experts to Venezuela.
U.S. President Donald Trump told reporters on May 3 that he wasn’t looking to get the American military involved in Venezuela.
He said that in a call, Russian President Vladimir Putin had assured him that “he is not looking to get involved in Venezuela other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”
“And I feel the same way,” he added.
Unnamed U.S. officials have said that Pompeo and Lavrov will discuss “a broad range of issues” when they attend a two-day Arctic Council meeting starting on May 6 in the northern Finnish city of Rovaniemi.
Russia’s Foreign Ministry said the two will exchange views “on the situation in Venezuela and around it in connection with the attempted coup d’etat in this country, on the prospects for a political and diplomatic settlement of differences within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution, as well as options for international mediation efforts to facilitate the dialogue between the Government and the opposition.”