Russia, China and Iran Defend Support for Venezuela, Warn U.S. Cannot Tell Them or Latin America What to Do

A Chinese Yangtze River Express Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane is seen behind a Russian Ilyushin Il-62M Air Force plane at Simon Bolivar International Airport, March 29, in Maiquetia, Vargas state, northern Venezuela. An Iranian Mahan Air plane also later landed in the embattled leftist-led Latin American country targeted by U.S. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

China, Iran and Russia have defended their support of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as the U.S. criticizes them for backing the socialist leader it is trying to oust.

During an interview Saturday with Voice of America Spanish, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo once again asserted that "all options [are] on the table" in ensuring the departure of Maduro, whose country has faced a historic economic crisis exacerbated by U.S. sanctions and is experiencing a political challenge by National Assembly President Juan Guaidó. Washington has been joined by Latin American allies in calling for Maduro to transfer power to the opposition, but Beijing, Tehran and Moscow are among the world powers backing the president.

"The Americans are openly meddling in the internal affairs of sovereign countries," Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the 27th Assembly of the Council of Foreign and Defense Policy in Moscow on Saturday. "Venezuela is on everyone's lips. Their regime-change blitz has failed. But the Americans are not giving up their aim to topple the legitimate president."

He also criticized the "notorious" 19th-century Monroe Doctrine, which was originally conceived to expel European colonial powers and often invoked—mostly recently last Wednesday by White House national security adviser John Bolton—to justify suppressing the rise of socialism and other movements deemed adversarial to U.S. interests in the Western Hemisphere.

A Chinese Yangtze River Express Airlines Boeing 747 cargo plane is seen behind a Russian Ilyushin Il-62M Air Force plane at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetia, Venezuela, on March 29. An Iranian Mahan Air plane later landed in the embattled Latin American country. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Pompeo argued Saturday that Maduro has "handed over all of his power to the Cubans, to the Russians," two Cold War–era allies whose plan to deploy nuclear-capable missiles in the Caribbean led to the 1962 Cuban missile crisis. As Washington and Moscow's geopolitical rivalry once again touched upon Latin America, Russia has sent personnel to Venezuela to fulfill "military-technical cooperation," reportedly to service the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system and advise on repairs for the country's damaged grid, whose failures the government has blamed on enemy action.

"We provide all necessary assistance to our Venezuelan friends on the basis of requests from the legitimate government," Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Oleg Syromolotov told Russia's state-run RT outlet on Monday.

Like Bolton, Pompeo also targeted recent moves by China and Iran in his interview. He accused Beijing of arriving in the region "with malign intent, to give money with strings attached, which will destroy the sovereignty of a South American nation." America's top economic competitor, which has sent humanitarian assistance to Venezuela and has also offered to help the country combat its frequent power outages, hit back at Pompeo's comments.

"U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo's attempts to slander China and sow discord between China and Latin American countries are irresponsible and nonsensical," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang told reporters Monday.

"We are strongly opposed to it," he continued. "The U.S. has long been treating Latin America as its backyard, where it would resort to willful use of pressure, threat or even subversion. People can tell right from wrong. I am sure Latin American countries are fully capable of telling a true friend from a false one who is ignoring rules and spreading chaos."

Lu added: "I need to point out that for quite some time, certain U.S. politicians have been touring the globe with the same script in their pockets to smear China, starting fires and fanning the flames and sowing discords. Such behaviors are really beneath their dignity. A lie will remain a lie, even if repeated a thousand times. Mr. Pompeo might as well take a break."

Russian, Chinese, Venezuelan and Iranian marines train together as part of the Seaborne Assault drills at the Gornostay range in Primorskiy Krai, Russia, on July 26, 2017. The four countries have all expressed deep opposition to U.S. foreign policy moves around the world. Russian Ministry of Defense

As for Iran, the Shiite power has also been hit by extensive sanctions from the Trump administration and shares a history with Venezuela of being targeted by U.S.-linked coups. Pompeo commented on the recent launch of direct flights from Tehran to Caracas by Mahan Air—an Iranian airline that's restricted by the U.S. because of alleged ties to Iran's elite Revolutionary Guard, which was designated a terrorist organization last week. He warned that "this is Iran intervening in South America. That's not in the best interest of the South American people, and the United States stands ready."

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Abbas Mousavi called the remarks "ridiculous" on Sunday. He said that "America's Trump wants to turn Latin America into its own backyard, as it was in the 19th century, forgetting that the nations of the world and Latin America have awakened and the wheel of time does not move backward."

He continued: "While Iranian specialists are trying to improve the water and electricity systems in Venezuela at the request of the government of Caracas, the U.S. has looted $30 billion worth of Venezuela's foreign exchange reserves. The U.S. move is blatant and arrogant interference in Venezuela's internal affairs and is strongly condemned."

Most of Latin America, as well as the EU, Albania, Australia, Georgia, Israel, Japan, South Korea and Ukraine, have joined the U.S. in recognizing Guaidó. Those backing Maduro include—in addition to China, Cuba, Russia and Iran—Belarus, Bolivia, Cambodia, El Salvador, Lebanon, Mexico, Nicaragua, North Korea, the Palestinian National Authority, Serbia, South Africa, Syria, Turkey and Uruguay.

The Venezuelan government has so far retained its seat at the United Nations, despite protests from Washington.