Russian military officials have arrived in Venezuela to discuss equipment maintenance and training, and strategy, an official in Caracas has said.
The statement came after a Russian-flagged cargo plane and an airliner were spotted at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas guarded by a contingent of Venezuelan national guardsmen.
A Venezuelan official said the aircraft arrived this weekend as part of ongoing military cooperation between the two allies.
Flightradar24, a flight-tracking site, showed the flight path on Saturday of what it listed as a Russian air force plane, apparently headed to Caracas while flying across the Caribbean.
Javier Mayorca, a Venezuelan journalist, tweeted that a Russian cargo plane with military equipment also arrived in Caracas on Saturday.
He said around 100 Russian soldiers led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, head of the mobilisation directorate of Russia’s armed forces, disembarked along with about 35 tons of equipment.
A picture of a Russian-flagged aircraft posted on social media showed men in uniform clustered around it on the tarmac.
Russia backs Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, who has rejected demands from the United States and dozens of other countries that he resign.
Russia and China are the main allies of Venezuela. Both have lent billions of dollars to the oil-rich South American country, propping up Maduro’s anti-US government.
Russia has also vocally opposed US moves to sanction Maduro and his government, and to recognise opposition leader Juan Guaidó as Venezuela’s interim president.
US moves against Caracas have ratcheted up in recent weeks, with Donald Trump warning “all options” – implicitly including US military intervention – were being considered.
On 28 April, US sanctions are set to escalate with a ban on crude oil imports from Venezuela. America is historically Venezuela’s biggest oil buyer, and that step is expected to severely crimp the Maduro government’s already diminished finances.
Russia has previously signalled its support for Maduro by sending two TU-160 bombers to Venezuela last December to take part in a military exercise.
Russia’s president, Vladimir Putin, has a record of ordering his military – or paramilitary – forces into several theatres to challenge US strategies, notably in Syria and Ukraine.
However, any Russian foothold in Latin America, especially Venezuela, would alarm the US military. It would also be a political test for Trump, who has routinely avoided criticising Putin.
Agence France-Presse and Associated Press contributed to this report.