The Russian Foreign Ministry on Tuesday attacked the United States for “meddling” in Venezuela and claimed it could “cause a collapse of the situation.”
The Russians disputed Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that dictator Nicolás Maduro was prepared to flee Venezuela yesterday until the Russians talked him into staying.
“Numerous political actors in Washington do not see the harmfulness of this path towards which they push this whole story. It is strange, because it is obvious to everyone now,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said at a press conference.
“If Washington continues its meddling attempts in internal affairs, it may cause a collapse of the situation,” she said.
Zakharova pushed back against Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s comment to CNN on Tuesday that Maduro was preparing to leave the country until his Russian allies convinced him to dig in and fight for power.
“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay. He was headed for Havana,” Pompeo said.
“Washington tried its best to demoralize the Venezuelan army and now used fakes as a part of information war,” Zakharova responded.
The UK Guardian looked back over the events of Tuesday in an evening summary, concluded after Maduro reappeared and gave a defiant speech declaring a “coup” by “Yankee imperialists” had been defeated, and speculated that both the Venezuelan opposition and U.S. officials expected several key members of Maduro’s inner circle to defect early in the day, but in the end they decided to stick with the dictator. The biggest disappointment appeared to be Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino, who was apparently signaling a willingness to defect but ended up onstage with Maduro when he gave his “victory speech” Tuesday evening.
Putting these theories together with the argument between Pompeo and Zakharova over whether Maduro had a getaway plane sitting on the tarmac, it might have been Russian influence – plus 20,000 thugs imported from Cuba to form a Praetorian guard around Maduro – that held a few wavering Venezuelan military officers in line and prevented the cascade of defections seemingly expected by opposition leader and internationally-recognized interim president Juan Guaidó.
Guaidó appears to have launched his “Operation Libertad” a day early, having originally planned massive demonstrations for Wednesday, the first of May. He might have done so because he received word that some of Maduro’s top men were ready to switch sides.
CBS News recalled speaking with a Venezuelan National Guard soldier in February who predicted mass defections from the unhappy military rank-and-file would occur if key military leaders turned their backs on Maduro.
“All we need is a high ranking general to rebel, to lead the way,” he said, delivering an assessment the Russians surely would have been aware of as well.
The Russians have placed huge bets on the Maduro regime they cannot afford to lose, as the Guardian summarized on Wednesday:
Russia is one of Venezuela’s largest creditors and most powerful international backers. It has lent Venezuela the equivalent of billions of pounds to help prop up the economy and finance arms deals, and Rosneft, the Russian energy giant, has invested heavily in the country’s oil sector.
Russia has sent military specialists and equipment to Caracas on several flights since the outbreak of the crisis this year. On Tuesday Russia denied it would intervene in the conflict. Reports have said Russian mercenaries have flown to Venezuela to protect Maduro, although Russia has not confirmed their presence in the country.
Russian state media have characterized the attempted overthrow of the Maduro government on Tuesday as a US-backed coup. The Russian government has criticized Washington’s support for Guaidó, and in a communique on Tuesday it lashed out at what it called “interference from abroad”.
“The radical opposition in Venezuela has once again turned to violent methods of confrontation,” the communique said. “Instead of a peaceful settlement of political differences, a course has been taken to foment a conflict, provoking violations of order and clashes with the country’s armed forces.”
Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL) said on Tuesday night that Russia, China, and allied bad actors view Venezuela as a vital strategic asset against the United States. He went so far as suggesting to Fox News host Tucker Carlson that Russia has already deployed nuclear weapons to Venezuela.
“Imagine if this regime that now is receiving a lot of international pressure survives, is it or is it not potentially a green light, an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest right here in our hemisphere,” said Diaz-Balart.
When Carlson referenced the Cuban Missile Crisis and asked if Moscow might have similar plans to put nuclear missiles in Venezuela, Diaz-Balart replied, “What I am suggesting is that they are already there.” He did not provide any further details, but Fox News noted Russia has already landed at least one nuclear-capable bomber in Venezuela.