Moscow refuses to withdraw troops from Venezuela after President Trump says ‘get out’

Sunday - 31/03/2019 23:18
The presence of Russian troops in Venezuela has been met with a backlash from the US. Picture: Ella PellegriniSource:News Limited Network
The presence of Russian troops in Venezuela has been met with a backlash from the US. Picture: Ella PellegriniSource:News Limited Network
President Donald Trump has demanded Russia withdraw its troops from crisis-torn Venezuela. But Moscow has hit back as tensions flare.

Moscow says its troops will assist crisis-torn Venezuela’s President Maduro “for as long as needed” in an outright rejection of President Trump’s call to “get out”.

The tense standoff appears to have set the failed South American nation down a Cold War style path of becoming a ‘proxy state’, where the US and Russia battle it out behind the scenes with their own favoured leadership.

Moscow insists its troops are there to fulfil prior agreements: “They are involved in the implementation of agreements in the sphere of military and technical co-operation,” said Kremlin Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova. “Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region, Russia is not threatening anyone.”

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has also waded into the fray, saying the 100 military servicemen now in Venezuela were only there to repair equipment and provide technical co-operation.

The United States, however, remains reticent.

Washington has traditionally been very nervous about the status of its southern neighbours.

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A move by Soviet Russia to place nuclear weapons on Cuba in 1962 resulted in a 13-day confrontation that put the world on the brink of nuclear war.

And Moscow has already expressed interest in taking control of a Venezuelan island to build itself a fortress airfield, from which its nuclear-capable bombers can range over the Carribean and US southern waters. Now, there is growing international concern Russia intends to intervene militarily in Venezuela itself — as it did in Syria.
Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a pro-government “Anti-Imperialist March” in Caracas. Picture: AFP
Supporters of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro take part in a pro-government “Anti-Imperialist March” in Caracas. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

 

“GET OUT”

Moscow’s weekend response came after US President Donald Trump told it to “get out” of Venezuela while meeting with the wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, Fabiana Rosales, at the White House.

Reporters asked Mr Trump about the presence of Russian troops.

“Russia has to get out. What’s your next question,” he said.

Trump was then asked if Moscow had been told: “They know. They know very well,” he retorted.
 

Venezuelan troops in different fatigues and carrying various weapons stand on a Russian-made BMP-3M IFV. Picture: AFP / Federico Parra
Venezuelan troops in different fatigues and carrying various weapons stand on a Russian-made BMP-3M IFV. Picture: AFP / Federico ParraSource:AFP


Now, Moscow has responded, saying the “Russian specialists” will remain “for as long as needed”. The troops, which arrived on two military aircraft a week ago, are there “in accordance with the provisions of the bilateral intergovernmental agreement on military-technical co-operation”.

Trump, when earlier asked what his response would be if Moscow refused to leave, replied: “We’ll see. We’ll see. All options are open. … All options are open.”
 

US President Donald Trump meets with Fabiana Rosales de Guaido, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. Picture: AFP
US President Donald Trump meets with Fabiana Rosales de Guaido, wife of Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, DC. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

 

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But, on Friday, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Russia would continue to exercise its rights to send military specialists to Venezuela.

“Russia has a longstanding, highly developed and mutually beneficial relationship with Venezuela,” Peskov told 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 it’s taking.”

Neither the US nor any other nation should be concerned, he added.

“We do not interfere in the domestic affairs of Venezuela. We count on these third countries to follow our example and allow Venezuelans to decide their own fate …”

“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.”

Shortly after, US national-security adviser John Bolton warned “actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela.”
 

Wearing flying gear, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a mock-up of a supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber. Picture: AP
Wearing flying gear, Russian President Vladimir Putin holds a mock-up of a supersonic Tu-160 strategic bomber. Picture: APSource:AP

 

BOMBER BASE FEARS

In December, Moscow-controlled media began to report the Kremlin was planning to establish an airfield and military facility on the Venezuelan island of La Orchilia in the Carribean Sea.

The airstrip, hangars and associated facilities were reportedly intended to support and maintain squadrons of the nuclear-capable Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers.


 

A retired Russian Colonel told Moscow media: “Our Tu-160 aircraft (would) arrive to their base in Venezuela, conduct flights, execute their missions and are then replaced on a rotating basis. This is how it should be done.”

Two of these aircraft had ruffled US feathers by visiting the nation just weeks earlier.

The bombers also spent 10 hours flying through the Caribbean, the first time ever Russian military aircraft had been so active in airspace to the south of the US.


 

At the time, international affairs analysts saw any such potential new Russian base as a direct act of support for Venezuela’s President Maduro — and as an upset in the strategic balance of power in the region.
 

Opposition supporters demonstrate behind a Venezuelan national flag against the lack of water and electricity in the neighbourhood of Los Palos Grandes in Caracas. Picture: AP
Opposition supporters demonstrate behind a Venezuelan national flag against the lack of water and electricity in the neighbourhood of Los Palos Grandes in Caracas. Picture: APSource:AFP

 

GREAT POWER GAME

In January, Russian President Vladimir Putin warned: “Destructive interference from abroad blatantly violates basic norms of international law.”

President Putin, however, was himself behind the invasion of Crimea and is actively supporting pro-Moscow insurgents within Ukraine.

Fears are his eyes have fallen on Venezuela as a new outpost of Russia’s growing sphere of influence.

Opposition leader Guaido declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January after an election last year that he alleges had been compromised.

He has since been backed by some 50 nations, including the US.

Russia, however, continues to back Maduro, who has repeatedly accused the US of attempting to orchestrate a coup.

The UN believes the crisis in Venezuela is now so bad that a quarter of its citizens were in need of direct humanitarian assistance. It reports 94 per cent of its 28.8m population was now living in poverty. Some 3.4 million people have already fled to neighbouring countries, it says.
 

Living conditions are plummeting in the oil-producing Latin American nation, which is spiralling ever deeper into economic chaos during a protracted political crisis. Picture: AFP
Living conditions are plummeting in the oil-producing Latin American nation, which is spiralling ever deeper into economic chaos during a protracted political crisis. Picture: AFPSource:AFP

 

President Maduro, however, maintains the support of his military.

And his supporters continue to gather at what are billed as “anti-imperialist” rallies in the capital — as Guaido tours the countryside.

As at Guaido’s rallies, some demonstrators at the pro-Maduro rally held Venezuelan flags and said they wanted to save the country. They filed toward the rally point, wearing red clothing associated with the socialist movement started by the late Hugo Chavez and reciting revolutionary slogans such as: “Always loyal! Never traitors!”

Diosdado Cabello, a leading pro-government politician, gave a fiery speech, mocking the opposition for its hopes that Maduro would quickly fall and accusing its leaders of “pretending to be democrats.”

Such duelling demonstrations have become a pattern in past weeks as Venezuela’s opposing factions vie for control of a country that has endured economic turmoil and a deepening humanitarian crisis.


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