Russia acknowledged Thursday that it has military personnel in Venezuela, which is facing political turmoil and a humanitarian crisis, saying the deployment is legal and does not alter the delicate balance of power in the region.
In a briefing Thursday in Moscow, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said “Russian specialists” were on Venezuelan soil but declared their deployment to be “in accordance with the provisions of the bilateral intergovernmental agreement on military-technical cooperation” between Moscow and Caracas.
Asked at the briefing by CNN how long they would be deployed, she replied that the personnel would remain in Venezuela “for as long as needed, and as long as the government of Venezuela needs them.”
Moscow has continued to back embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, while Washington and more than 50 other countries recognize Juan Guaido, the president of the country’s National Assembly, as the Venezuela’s interim president.
Zakharova provided few specifics about the activity of the personnel but said their presence “doesn’t violate international law, doesn’t change the balance of forces in the region.”
She added that Russia had delivered a shipment of humanitarian aid at the request of the Venezuelan government.
Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Thursday that Russia was within its rights to send military specialists to Venezuela.
“Russia has a longstanding, highly developed and mutually beneficial relationship with Venezuela,” Peskov said in a conference call with reporters. “Russia has contractual obligations based on previously signed documents, contracts to supply special equipment. To implement these contracts, Russia is taking the actions that its taking.”
Peskov said Russia’s relations with Venezuela should not worry third party countries. “We do not interfere in the domestic affairs of Venezuela,” he added. “We count on these third countries to follow our example and allow Venezuelans to decide their own fate.”
The Trump administration has warned Russia over the recent arrival of a small contingent of Russian troops on two military aircraft.
The revelation comes a day after President Donald Trump urged Moscow to “get out” of Venezuela following reports that Russian planes were arriving in the country.
During an Oval Office meeting Wednesday with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales, Trump was asked whether Russia’s involvement complicates the situation in Venezuela. Questioned if Russia doesn’t leave Venezuela, Trump said: “We’ll see. We’ll see. All options are open. … All options are open.”
On Thursday Peskov said: “Regarding the US, they are present in many corners of the world, nobody tells them where they can be and where they can’t be.”
Earlier this week, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also called on Russia “to cease its unconstructive behavior” through its reported insertion of a contingent of Russian military personnel in Venezuela, according to a State Department readout of a telephone conversation between Pompeo and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.