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Russia says 'not threatening anyone' in Venezuela


AFP Moscow
The presence of Russian troops in Venezuela does not present a threat to anyone, the foreign ministry said Thursday after US President Donald Trump demanded that Russia remove its troops from the crisis-stricken country.
The United States and more than 50 other countries recognise Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president while Russia, along with China, backs beleaguered socialist leader Nicolas Maduro.
Russia's deployment of troops and equipment to bolster Maduro has ratcheted up already high international tensions as the Trump administration is pushing hard for regime change amid mounting chaos in the once-rich country.
"Russia is not changing the balance of power in the region, Russia is not threatening anyone unlike citizens in Washington whom I have just quoted," foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova told journalists.
She referred to Trump's comments on Wednesday that "Russia has to get out" of Venezuela as well as to statements by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo that Washington does not plan to negotiate with Maduro and wants to end Russia and Cuba's influence on Caracas.
"Neither Russia nor Venezuela are provinces of the United States," Zakharova said.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has accused Washington of attempts to "organise a coup d'etat" in the oil-producing nation while Pompeo warned that the US would not "stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions".
Earlier Thursday in Moscow, Venezuela's military attache said that Russian troops were in Venezuela under an agreement on military and technical cooperation and not to carry out a military operation.
A Russian air force Antonov-124 cargo plane and a smaller Ilyushin Il-62, landed at the main airport outside Caracas on Saturday and offloaded around 100 troops and tons of equipment.
"As for the presence of Russian specialists, we are talking about cooperation, military and technical cooperation," Jose Rafael Torrealba Perez was quoted as saying in translated comments by RIA Novosti state news agency.
"We are absolutely not talking about Russia's military presence to carry out military operations," he added.
Venezuela's defence minister is expected to visit Moscow in April as part of the countries' cooperation, the military attache said.
On Tuesday, Zakharova also insisted that Russia is "developing cooperation with Venezuela in strict accordance with the constitution of that country and with full respect for its legal norms."

"The presence of Russian specialists on Venezuelan territory is regulated by an agreement between the Russian and Venezuelan governments on military and technical cooperation that was signed in May 2001," she said.
In 2011, Russia gave Venezuela a $4 billion loan to buy Russian armaments.

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First Published: Mar 28 2019 | 5:15 PM IST

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