The White House on Friday warned Russia and other countries backing President Nicolas Maduro against sending troops and military equipment to Venezuela, saying the United States would view such actions as a “direct threat” to the region’s security.
The warning comes after two Russian air force planes landed outside of Caracas on Saturday, believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel.
“We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations,” White House National Security Adviser John Bolton said in a statement.
“We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region,” Bolton added.
Bolton’s statement also condemned Maduro‘s “use of foreign military personnel in his attempt to remain in power, including the introduction of Russian military personnel and equipment into Venezuela”.
He added, “Maduro will only use this military support to further repress the people of Venezuela; perpetuate the economic crisis that has destroyed Venezuela’s economy, and; endanger regional stability.”
Russia said on Thursday it had sent “specialists” to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal but insisted they posed no threat to regional stability, brushing aside a call by Trump for Moscow to remove all military personnel from the country.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russian military specialists were in Venezuela to service pre-existing contracts for the supply of Russian arms.
Peskov said Russia is not interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs and that the Kremlin hopes other countries would let Venezuelans decide their own fate.
Trump has called on Russia to “get out” of Venezuela.
On Wednesday, Trump said that “all options” were open to force Russia to pull troops out of Venezuela after two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops, according to media reports.
Elliott Abrams, the US special representative for Venezuela, said that those options include sanctions.
“We have a list of options we have given” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Abrams told reporters on Friday.
“There are a lot of things we can do in economic terms, in terms of sanctions,” he added. “We have options and it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand.”
The US recognised Juan Guaido, the leader of the national assembly, as Venezuela’s interim president earlier this year after the opposition leader declared himself the country’s leader, calling Maduro’s presidency illegitimate.
Meanwhile, Russia has emerged as a key backer of Maduro’s government.