The White House on Friday warned Russia and other countries backing President Nicolas Maduro against sending troops and military equipment to Venezuela, saying the United States would view such actions as a “direct threat” to the region’s security. After two Russian air force planes carrying nearly 100 military personnel landed outside of Caracas on Saturday, US officials prepared a list of possible responses – including sanctions – for US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Trump’s envoy on Venezuela said.
“We have options and it would be a mistake for the Russians to think they have a free hand,” said Elliott Abrams, the US special representative for Venezuela.
US President Donald Trump earlier this week said “Russia has to get out” of Venezuela and said “all options” were open to force Russia to do so.
His national security adviser John Bolton issued a second warning on Friday 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.
RUSSIA SENDS ‘SPECIALISTS’
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. Maduro retains control of state functions and the country’s military.
Russia has said it sent “specialists” to Venezuela under a military cooperation deal but insisted they posed no threat to regional stability, brushing aside Trump’s threat.
The personnel appear to be trying to help Maduro’s officials with a Russian-made ground-to-air missile defense system believed to have been damaged during power blackouts, Abrams told reporters at a briefing.
Abrams confirmed that US officials have been having “conversations” with oil trading houses and governments around the world to convince them to further cut their dealings with OPEC member Venezuela. Oil provides 90 percent of export revenue for Venezuela.
Earlier this year, the Trump administration slapped sanctions on state-owned oil company Petroleos de Venezuela , known as PDVSA, to try to cut off revenues to Maduro. Trump has said tougher sanctions are still to come.
The United Nations estimates that about a quarter of Venezuelans need humanitarian aid, according to internal UN estimates seen by Reuters.
The International Federation of the Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said on Friday it was prepared to channel such aid to Venezuela.