Venezuelan dictator Nicolás Maduro on Friday vowed that his country’s military relationship with Russia “will continue profoundly” in a speech delivered after he attempted to cut all diplomatic ties with the United States over America’s official support for the opposition.
As the United States no longer recognizes Maduro as president, the State Department said it would not recognize his expulsion of U.S. diplomatic staff from the country.
Maduro’s comments came soon after the Trump administration recognized opposition-led National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate president of Venezuela. A host of nations including Canada, the United Kingdom, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, soon followed suit.
Guaidó was sworn into office before a crowd in Caracas on Wednesday.
The Kremlin has come out in support of Maduro, warning the United States against military intervention in Venezuela.
“President [Vladimir] Putin has ratified all his full support for Venezuela. Of course, the [military and economic investment] support will continue,” he told reporters Friday amid deadly protests that erupted as Guaidó and Maduro vie for power, adding, “We are going to march along with military cooperation that we have had for many years — that will continue profoundly.”
“We have all their support,” he stressed, referring to the Kremlin. “Thank God, thanks to our effort, and thanks to the legacy that [the late Venezuelan dictator] Hugo Chávez left us.”
This week, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov pledged that Russia would stand with Venezuela to protect the South American nation’s sovereignty and the principle of non-interference in its domestic affairs, NBC News reports.
“We warn against that,” the Russian minister replied when asked about the prospect of American military intervention in Venezuela. “We consider that would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model which we see in Latin America.”
The U.S. military has long warned against Russia’s growing influence in Latin America. Russia has refused to recognize Guaidó as the president.
On Friday, Reuters reported Russia has accused the United States “of trying to usurp power in Venezuela.”
Citing Russia’s state-run RIA Novosti, Reuters noted that Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov indicated on Friday that “Moscow will insist on compliance with international law.”
“Private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia have flown into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for Maduro, who has been in power since 2013,” Reuters claimed, citing unnamed sources.
On Friday, Maduro said that while he has cut ties, Venezuela will continue selling oil to the United States, the country’s biggest oil importer.
President Trump urged Maduro to step down, vowing to use the “full weight” of America’s economic and diplomatic power to push for the restoration of Venezuela’s democracy.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said in a statement.
Maduro responded on Wednesday by giving U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country, telling reporters Friday he expects the American to abide by the deadline.
“Before the people and nations of the world, and as constitutional president. … I’ve decided to break diplomatic and political relations with the imperialist U.S. government,” the socialist leader declared. “Don’t trust the gringos. They don’t have friends or loyalties. They only have interests, guts, and the ambition to take Venezuela’s oil, gas, and gold.”
This week, the U.S. Department of State (DOS) ordered workers and American citizens to leave the country.
“Earlier, American diplomats left the U.S. embassy in Caracas in a convoy of sport utility vehicles and with a police escort en route to the airport, according to a Reuters witness,” the news outlet reveals. “Their departure came after Maduro broke off relations with Washington and ordered the U.S. personnel out.”