Russia Defends Military Presence in Venezuela, Says U.S. 'Nervous' Because Its Plans 'Failed'

Russia has defended its military presence in Venezuela amid warnings from the United States, whose plans for regime change Moscow claims have been thwarted.

The presence of up to 100 Russian personnel spotted last week in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas has worsened already tense relations between the world's top two military powers, each of whom has backed separate sides in Venezuela's ongoing political and economic crisis. Russia has thrown its support to Nicolás Maduro, while the U.S. has recognized Juan Guaidó as the rightful president.

In a statement published Saturday, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova addressed how "the arrival in Venezuela of Russian specialists for military-technical cooperation continues to cause a nervous reaction in Washington."

The remarks came days after President Donald Trump warned that "all options are open" in ensuring that Russia withdraws from the socialist-led Latin American state and just one day after Elliot Abrams, Washington's envoy to Venezuela, asserted that "the Russians will pay a price" for reportedly helping the South American country prepare the S-300 surface-to-air missile defense system for combat.

"Of course, we understand what causes American nervousness," Zakharova said. "The planned rapid change of power in Caracas failed. With its self-confidence, Washington only 'set up' those in Latin America and Western Europe who rashly hurried to recognize an impostor whom the people did not elect as the head of Venezuela. Thus, they deprived themselves of space for diplomatic maneuvers."

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A Russian Antonov AN-12 plane takes off from Simon Bolivar International Airport in La Guaira, Vargas state, Venezuela, on March 28. Russia said Thursday its troops will stay in Venezuela “for as long as needed” and urged the United States not to worry about Moscow’s ties with a traditional ally. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Russia has previously sent military personnel and equipment to Venezuela, most notably in December, when the two conducted joint air drills over the Caribbean in a sign of solidarity against U.S. sanctions and threats of intervention. A month later, as the country's economic and political situation worsened amid historic levels of hyperinflation and mass opposition protests, National Assembly leader Guaidó declared himself head of state in a challenge swiftly backed by the U.S. and its allies in the region and abroad against Maduro, who has held onto the title of president despite not being recognized by the U.S. and others.

Russia and China were among those to reject the move, however, and have increased their support for Maduro in the face of mounting U.S.-backed efforts to oust him. All three major powers have financial interests in the oil-rich nation, though Washington has severed all ties with Maduro in hopes that Guaidó would soon replace him.

The reappearance of Russian military personnel and a recent Chinese plane have stoked U.S. concerns that its vision for Venezuela may be losing momentum. These events have also fueled anxieties among neighboring, right-wing states such as Colombia and Brazil, which quickly signed on to the U.S. plan.

"It would be nice to find out what numerous American military instructors are doing in Colombia, which neighbors Venezuela? And why did the White House suddenly start calling on its other neighbor, Brazil, to join NATO, contrary to the charter and even to the name of the North Atlantic bloc?" Zakharova asked Saturday.

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This combination of pictures shows Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó delivering speeches during separate gatherings with their respective supporters in Caracas on February 2. YURI CORTEZ/JUAN BARRETO/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

The U.S. has a long history of intervening against left-wing forces across the continent. The current situation in Venezuela has drawn comparisons from some to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Communist Cuban President Fidel Castro responded to a failed attempt by U.S.-backed operatives to remove him from power by seeking increased support from Soviet allies in the form of nuclear-capable missiles that could be launched from Cuba's shores — only 90 miles from the continental U.S. Upon learning of this plan, the White House ordered a naval blockade and President John Kennedy revealed the news in a nationally televised address. The standoff was only resolved when Moscow agreed to remove the weapons in exchange for Washington removing similar assets deployed in Turkey.

Such medium-range, land-launched missiles were later banned as part of the Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces (INF) reached by the Cold War rivals in 1987, but the White House suspended the deal last month as the U.S. and Russia exchanged accusations that the other was violating the agreement. Washington claimed Moscow's Novator 9M729 fell within the restricted 310 to 3,420-mile range, while Russian officials argued that U.S.-built Aegis Ashore defense system in Romania—and soon, Poland—could be used offensively, thus breaking the treaty.

Trump said Friday that he planned on speaking with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping about the situation in Venezuela, but the state-run Tass Russian News Agency cited a Kremlin source as saying Saturday that the White House had yet to request any such call.

Russia Defends Military Presence in Venezuela, Says U.S. 'Nervous' Because Its Plans 'Failed' | World