U.S. slams Russia after military planes deployed to Venezuela
CARACAS, VENEZUELA — The U.S. has accused Russia of meddling and aggravating political tensions in oil-rich but cash-strapped Venezuela.
The Guardian reports that two Russian military planes, an Ilyushin Il-62 and an Antonov-124 cargo plane landed at Maiquetia airport near Caracas on Saturday.
The two aircrafts were seen guarded by a contingent of Venezuelan national guardsmen.
According to the BBC, Venezuelan journalist Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter that 100 Russian troops disembarked with 35 tonnes of equipment.
Russian military experts in the Guardian say the cargo plane may have been carrying spare parts.
Venezuela was once one of the largest importers of Russian arms, and has warplanes, missiles, and other weapons in its arsenal that require maintenance.
According to the Guardian, Russia is one of Venezuela's main allies, and has provided diplomatic, economic, and military support to the embattled regime of Nicolas Maduro.
In December, Russia signaled its support for the oil-rich country by sending two TU-160 bombers to take part in a joint military exercise.
The U.S. has repeatedly called for Maduro to resign, instead recognizing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's interim president.
According to Reuters, the State Department condemned the Russian military deployment to Caracas, calling it a "reckless escalation of the situation."
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also told his Russian counterpart in a phone call to stop its "unconstructive behavior," warning that the U.S. and its allies "will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela."