Maduro Envoy in Moscow Suggests ‘Expanded’ Russian Troop Presence in Venezuela

Russian military troops take part in a military drill on Sernovodsky polygon close to the Chechnya border, some 260 km from south Russian city of Stavropol, on March 19, 2015. About 500 soldiers take part in the military exercises until March 20. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY VENYAVSKY (Photo credit should …
SERGEY VENYAVSKY/AFP/Getty Images
FRANCES MARTEL

Socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro’s Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza suggested to reporters in Moscow Monday that Maduro may request a larger Russian military presence in the country after the nation’s president, Juan Guaidó, announced that Venezuela’s forces had agreed to stop taking orders from Maduro.

Russia is Maduro’s most prominent ally and has deployed a significant, though not precisely permanent, troop presence to Venezuela. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo accused the Russians of convincing Maduro not to flee the country last week after Guaidó announced his uprising. Since then, Maduro has claimed that he remains in control and relied heavily on Russian diplomatic support to stay in power.

Maduro deployed Arreaza – who most of the Western Hemisphere does not recognize as a legal diplomat representing Venezuela – to Moscow, this weekend where the latter said on Twitter Sunday that he enjoyed an “extraordinary and necessary” meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

“We analyzed the recent developments in global geopolitics and aggressions against Venezuela,” Arreaza wrote. “We appreciate his support of our sovereignty and international right.”

Speaking to reporters Monday, Arreaza said that Maduro may request a larger Russian troop presence as Guaidó gains support.

“We need to provide for equipment maintenance and exchange military and technical information. This work has been going on since 2001 when we signed an agreement on military cooperation. Currently, a commission of [Russian] specialists is present on the territory of Venezuela and, no doubt, it may be expanded,” Arreaza said, according to Russian news agency TASS.

Arreaza said that Maduro was “ready for any scenario” and could “overpower and destroy any army,” hinting at a military attack on American forces.

While Arreaza suggested an even greater Russian military presence may be necessary to keep Maduro in power, Lavrov disparaged Guaidó as being captured by foreign interests. Guaidó, he claimed, answered to “his sponsors in the U.S.” and was “displaying his lack of honor for all America to see.”

The United States has no known troops presence in Venezuela, nor has President Donald Trump suggested he would soon establish one. Trump has, however, refused to rule out the use of military force to neutralize the threat that Maduro – an ally of China, North Korea, and Iran – presents to the United States.

Last week, Lavrov urged “dialogue” while conceding that Moscow’s position on Venezuela is “incompatible” with Washington’s.

“[Pompeo] called for abandoning support for Maduro and called on us and on Cuba not to interfere with Venezuela’s domestic affairs. All this story sounds rather surrealistic,” he said. “I answered him, proceeding from our principled position, that we never interfere with other’s affairs … However, I don’t see the way the positions can be combined … The positions are incompatible, but we are ready to talk.”

Last week, a spokeswoman for Lavrov’s ministry claimed that the United States urging Russia, Cuba, and other rogue states to stop helping Maduro stay in power would “cause a collapse” of Venezuela. She did not specify what a collapse of Venezuela – where average citizens already lack access to a reliable food supply and almost all medical drugs and have begun the largest exodus in the history of the hemisphere – would look like relative to the current situation.

Russia has played a significant role in keeping Maduro in power. Experts have accused Moscow of helping Maduro evade American sanctions through funneling oil into the market illegally, sending intelligence officers to torture political prisoners, and working with the estimated 92,000 Cuban government agents in Venezuela colonizing the country through Maduro. Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) accused the Russians last week of “building a security infrastructure” in Venezuela to threaten the United States. Some have gone further, accusing Russia of placing nuclear weapons in the South American country.

The Trump administration considers Russia’s actions in Venezuela a threat.

“The Russians must get out,” Pompeo said in an interview Sunday, shortly following a conversation with Lavrov. “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.”

In March, Russian officials insisted that their troops would remain in Venezuela “for as long as needed” to prevent Washington from “stag[ing] a coup” against Maduro.

Guaidó, of the socialist Popular Will party, has been president of Venezuela since January, when Maduro’s term elapsed. Maduro contends he remains president of the country because he was “elected” in a race last year in which he banned non-socialist candidates from running and used both the military and violent socialist gangs (colectivos) to threaten voters. Most countries in the Americas, including the United States, accept Guaidó and not Maduro as the nation’s president.

Guaidó has not been able to exercise his powers as president because Maduro’s senior officials have managed to keep control of the nation’s military, which Maduro has used for years to violently repress expressions of political dissent. Last Tuesday, Guaidó announced that, finally, the nation’s soldiers had agreed to listen to their commander-in-chief. Maduro responded with violence, sending soldiers loyal to him into crowds of protesters, shooting them and running them over with armored vehicles.

At press time, Maduro remains in Miraflores, Venezuela’s presidential palace, while Guaidó continues to urge Venezuelans to take to the streets unarmed.

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