WASHINGTON, March 26 (Reuters) – A Russian military contingent that arrived in Venezuela over the weekend, drawing U.S. condemnation, is believed by the U.S. government to be made up of special forces including "cybersecurity personnel," a U.S. official told Reuters on Tuesday. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the United States was still assessing the Russian deployment, which Washington has called a "reckless escalation" of the situation in Venezuela.
Two Russian air force planes landed outside Caracas on Saturday carrying nearly 100 Russian troops, according to local media reports, two months after the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump disavowed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. Venezuela's government has confirmed two planes landed from Russia at the weekend and were authorized by Maduro but has given no more details.
The Trump administration has recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country's legitimate president and demands that Maduro step down. Russia has described this as a U.S.-backed coup against the socialist government.
The U.S. determination that the Russian contingent includes cybersecurity specialists suggests that part of their mission could be helping Maduro's loyalists with surveillance as well as protection of the government's cyber infrastructure. (Reuters)
The Antonov-124 transport and Ilyushin-62 passenger jet landed in Caracas with 100 Russian troops and technical specialists and 35 tons of equipment. The group was led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, the Chief of Staff of the Russian ground forces. I would imagine the Russian troops include a contingent of the polite green men to advise Maduro’s security forces and perhaps assist in conducting counterterrorist operations as needed against any mercenaries in country associated with Guaido and the US-backed coup attempt. The Russians may also include specialists to train and assist the recent Venezuelan S-300 deployments at an airbase just south of Caracas.
Naturally Pompeo and Bonkers Bolton are raising holy hell about the Russian presence and making all manner of bombastic threats. It doesn’t appear they are doing this on their own. “You will find no safe harbor, no easy exit and no way out. You will lose everything,” Trump said in a speech at Florida International University in Miami on 18 February. “We seek a peaceful transition of power, but all options are open.” On the same day he tweeted “I ask every member of the Maduro regime: End this nightmare of poverty, hunger and death. LET YOUR PEOPLE GO. Set your country free! Now is the time for all Venezuelan Patriots to act together, as one united people. Nothing could be better for the future of Venezuela!” At a White House photo op with Guaido’s wife today, Trump said “Russia has to get out.” He continued “If Russia doesn't leave Venezuela, we'll see. We'll see. All options are open … all options are open." Trump appears to be all in on this one.
I doubt the tough talk from Washington is going to sway Putin. Moscow has decided that Venezuela and Maduro’s government are important and is acting accordingly. Lavrov has scheduled coordination meetings in Moscow on 3 April to sign some 20 accords in the fields of defense, energy, the economy, trade and education. They are not about to let things fester as they did in Ukraine and Syria. This Guaido thing is going to be nipped in the bud.