By Steve Holland and Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and warned that “all options” were open to make that happen.
The arrival of two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 Russian troops outside Caracas on Saturday has escalated the political crisis in Venezuela.
Russia and China have backed President Nicolas Maduro, while the United States and most Western countries support opposition leader Juan Guaido. In January, he invoked the constitution to assume the country’s interim presidency, arguing Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
“Russia has to get out,” Trump told reporters in the Oval Office, where he met with Guaido’s wife, Fabiana Rosales.
The U.S. government believes the Russian troops include special forces and cybersecurity personnel.
Asked how he would make Russian forces leave, Trump said: “We’ll see. All options are open.”
Russia has bilateral relations and agreements with Venezuela which it plans to honour, Russian Deputy U.N. Ambassador Dmitry Polyanskiy said, in response to Trump’s comments.
“It’s not up to US to decide actions and fate of other countries. It’s only up to the people of Venezuela and its only legitimate president Nicolas Maduro,” Polyanskiy said on Twitter.
Maduro, who retains control of state functions and the country’s military, has said Guaido is a puppet of the United States.
Rosales, a 26-year-old journalist and opposition activist, told Trump that Guaido was attacked on Tuesday, though she did not provide details.
“I fear for my husband’s life,” she said. She was accompanied by the wife and sister of Roberto Marrero, Guaido’s chief of staff, who was arrested and detained last week.
Earlier at the White House, Rosales met Vice President Mike Pence, and told him that power outages and food shortages were hurting children in her country.
“They are trying to break our morale. They want to submerge us in eternal darkness. But let me tell you that there is light, and the light is here,” Rosales told Pence.
She is slated to meet U.S. first lady Melania Trump in Palm Beach on Thursday on a swing through South Florida, home to the largest community of Venezuelan exiles in the United States.
Rosales is also slated to meet with lawmakers on Capitol Hill and members of the Venezuelan diaspora at a prominent Washington think tank.
Pence praised Rosales for being “courageous.”
“Our message very simply is: We’re with you,” Pence said.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Steve Holland; additional reporting by Michelle Nichols in New York and Doina Chiacu and Makini Brice in Washington; Editing by Jeffrey Benkoe)