By Roberta Rampton
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The White House warned Russia and other countries backing Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro against sending troops and military equipment, saying the United States would view such actions as a “direct threat” to the region’s security.
Two days after U.S. President Donald Trump said “Russia has to get out” of Venezuela, national security adviser John Bolton issued a second warning in a strongly worded formal statement.
“We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations,” Bolton said.
“We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region. We will continue to defend and protect the interests of the United States, and those of our partners in the Western Hemisphere,” he said.
Two Russian air force planes arrived outside Caracas on Saturday, believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel. Russia said on Thursday it had sent “specialists” to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal but insisted they posed no threat to regional stability, brushing aside Trump’s threat.
The United States and most other Western countries support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido, who invoked the constitution in January to declare himself interim president, arguing that Maduro’s 2018 re-election was illegitimate.
Russia and China support Maduro, who has said Guaido is a puppet of Washington.
Trump said on Wednesday that “all options” were open to force Russia pull its troops out of Venezuela.
Bolton condemned Maduro for using foreign military support to stay in power, saying it would “perpetuate the economic crisis that has destroyed Venezuela’s economy; and endanger regional stability.”
Years of economic mismanagement have left the economy of OPEC member Venezuela in shambles, causing hyperinflation. Severe shortages of food and medicine are common, and power blackouts have exacerbated the crisis.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton andTim Ahmann; Editing by David Alexander, Phil Berlowitz and Jeffrey Benkoe)