This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and is reprinted with permission.
Russia has denied it informed U.S. President Donald Trump that it is pulling defense personnel out of Venezuela, contradicting a comment by the U.S. leader.
“I was surprised when I read this. We did not notify anyone. He apparently read an article in The Wall Street Journal,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on June 4 referring to a June 3 tweet by Trump.
Trump in March said Russia “has to get out” of the South American nation after it landed planes carrying supplies and technical advisers to help President Nicolas Maduro amid an uprising.
The United States is seeking the ouster of Maduro, an ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin, as thousands of Venezuelan citizens take to the streets to protest his regime.
Trump on June 3 tweeted that Russia had informed the United States “that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela.”
Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 3, 2019
His tweet came a day after The Wall Street Journal, citing an unnamed source close to the Russian Defense Ministry, reported that Moscow had pulled out many defense advisers from the country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov also said that Russia had not informed the United States of any such withdrawal, adding that Russian specialists continue to work in the South American country.
However, neither Lavrov nor Peskov addressed whether the number of Russian advisers in Venezuela has decreased significantly.
The Wall Street Journal reported on June 2 that Russian state defense contractor Rostec had reduced its staff in Venezuela from about 1,000 several years ago to “just a few dozen.”
Rostec, which trains Venezuelan troops to use Russian weapons, is pulling personnel due to a drop in military contracts “and the acceptance” that Maduro’s regime doesn’t have the money to pay for its services, The Wall Street Journal reported.
However, Rostec said the paper’s description of a massive withdrawal of Russian personnel was “overstated by tenfold.”
The Russian state-owned corporation said its technical advisers come and go all the time as demanded by service contracts and that some advisers had recently left after completing work on airplanes.
The State Department declined to comment on whether it has information that Russia is cutting back its presence in Venezuela. The Pentagon did not immediately reply to a request by RFE/RL for comment.