Russia and Iran Warn U.S. to Stay Out of Venezuela as American Rivals Discuss Crisis

The top diplomats of Russia and Iran have held talks on the ongoing political crisis in Venezuela, where they back the government against an opposition formally recognized by the United States and a number of its allies.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif spoke Monday by phone in hopes of uniting against what they said was a U.S. attempt to illicitly intervene with the socialist leadership of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. Moscow has already volunteered to mediate between the leader and the self-proclaimed "acting president" Juan Guaidó, who heads the National Assembly, and Caracas reportedly accepted the offer, followed by an apparent Iranian proposition as well.

"The foreign ministers discussed the current developments in Venezuela and noted their shared readiness to help facilitate mutual understanding between responsible political forces of Venezuela in the interests of maintaining domestic peace and resolving pressing socioeconomic challenges as soon as possible," the Russian Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

The Iranian Foreign Ministry simply noted that the pair discussed "bilateral relations, regional issues and the latest developments in Venezuela."

Russia and Iran consider Venezuela a close ally in the West, where both have harbored ambitions of boosting their military presence in the face of perceived U.S. aggression.

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From left: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani after a trilateral meeting along with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Tehran, Iran, on September 7, 2018. The three countries, which are working together in Syria, came out against the U.S.'s decision to recognize a Venezuelan opposition leader as the country's interim president. KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuela has suffered from years of financial woe, with hyperinflation leading to shortages of basic goods and services, and a mass exodus of refugees fleeing a potential total economic collapse and alleged human rights abuses conducted by the government.

President Donald Trump and his administration targeted Maduro's leadership with sanctions that prevent the country from restructuring or issuing new debt, and also warned that military intervention was an option.

Rival protests for and against Maduro swarmed the country as the president entered his second term earlier this month. On Wednesday, Guaidó declared himself the country's interim president in a move recognized by the U.S. and a number of its allies—Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Ecuador, Honduras, Panama, Paraguay and Peru—and abroad, by Australia, Canada, Israel and the United Kingdom. Washington declared Maduro's rule "illegitimate" and has begun corresponding directly with Guaidó, who sent his own representative to the Organization of American States.

Left-wing-led Latin American nations Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua railed against the decision, and Russia and Iran were joined in their international support for Maduro by China and Turkey. Venezuela's ruling United Socialist Party was also endorsed by Syria, where Russia and Iran previously joined forces against a U.S.-sponsored intervention that has since focused on defeating the Islamic State militant group (ISIS), a common enemy of all four countries.

With Syrian President Bashar al-Assad having mostly overcome the 2011 rebel and jihadi uprising and rebuilding regional ties, Russia and Iran sought a common strategy in hopes of preventing the overthrow of the government in Venezuela, thousands of miles away in a region where the U.S. has for decades worked to suppress the rise of socialist movements. In 2002 the CIA allegedly played a role in a coup attempt against Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chávez, who went on to take a decidedly hostile stance against Washington.

Iranian Judiciary Chief Ayatollah Sadegh Amoli Larijani told officials Monday that "what happened in the form of an American coup in Venezuela was not a new incident," saying it was "a warning to other nations to be more vigilant against the true nature of America and Europe," the semiofficial Mehr News Agency reported.

Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov denied reports of Russian security guards and aircraft being deployed in support of Maduro, and said that "nothing had changed" in response to reports that Moscow would provide military assistance to Caracas, according to the state-run Tass Russian News Agency. He asserted that it was "most important now that Venezuelans themselves should settle all differences that can be between them in the framework of the constitution, and the only help that all of us can offer is not to meddle in the situation like certain countries are doing directly."

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Venezuela's National Assembly head Juan Guaidó, left, and President Nicolás Maduro (right). On January 23, Guaidó declared himself the country's "acting president" on the anniversary of a 1958 uprising that overthrew a military dictatorship. YURI CORTEZ/AFP/Getty Images

Just last month, Russia sent an air force delegation to Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro as his cash-strapped government faced threats from the Trump administration. Around the same time, Iran said it would send a naval flotilla in a bid to boost bilateral relations.

As the situation in Caracas continued to deteriorate, Mexico and Uruguay—who have also continued to recognize Maduro—offered to host talks between the government and opposition in Venezuela. Guaidó called Monday for a new day of anti-government protests, and offered amnesty to military defectors in hopes of gaining support for the country's armed forces, which still back Maduro amid fears of potential actions by neighboring right-wing-led U.S. allies Brazil and Colombia.

Venezuela has severed diplomatic relations following Washington's decision to cut ties with Maduro, who on Wednesday gave U.S. diplomats 72 hours to leave the country. After initially calling on essential personnel to stay, the State Department later ordered their withdrawal in a move that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told Colombia's NTN24 was made in order "to ensure that our diplomats are in a secure environment" on Monday.

In a tweet posted a day earlier, White House national security adviser John Bolton warned that "any violence and intimidation against U.S. diplomatic personnel, Venezuela's democratic leader, Juan Guiadó or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response." The Venezuelan Defense Ministry then shared footage Monday of Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino marching alongside troops in a show of force that "demonstrated their high morality in the face of the constant attacks of American imperialism."

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An infographic of which nations support Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and which support National Assembly head Juan Guaidó as of January 25. STATISTA