Military and technical cooperation between Moscow and Caracas is geared at boosting the operational readiness of the Venezuelan army, the country’s Defence Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez underscored on Friday.
“It is no secret to anyone that our country has been maintaining military and technical collaboration with Russia since 2001, but when they [Russia’s representatives] paid a visit to Venezuela, a scandal occurred. No one should worry about our bilateral cooperation,” Lopez was quoted by the Venezuelan Defence Ministry as saying.
In this context, he pointed out that no one is expressing concern about the ever-increasing activity of the US military near the Venezuelan border.
“There is no sign of scandal when US military aircraft land in Cucuta [Colombia] or when electronic surveillance of the US Air Force around our territory increases 800 percent. Nobody speaks out when there are attempts to undermine Venezuela’s sovereignty,” Lopez noted.
His remarks came shortly after US Special Representative for Venezuela Elliott Abrams said that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo would soon announce Washington’s response to last week's arrival of Russian military planes in Venezuela.
“We have a very nice options paper of the various things that can be done in US-Russia relations. There are a lot of things we can do in economic terms, in terms of sanctions. There's a lot of things that are on the list. So, The Russians will pay a price for this”, Abrams warned.
The US President's National Security Adviser John Bolton, for his part, cautioned countries “external to the Western Hemisphere” against deploying military forces in Venezuela or “elsewhere in the hemisphere”. He warned that Washington would consider such military deployments provocations and described them as a “direct threat to international peace and security in the region”.
Earlier, Vice President Mike Pence called the arrival of Russian military aircraft in Venezuela an “unwelcome provocation”, while President Donald Trump demanded that Russia "get out" of Venezuela and said that all options were on the table to force Moscow to do so.
For his part, Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov advised the US against worrying about Russian planes in Venezuela, as their arrival had been "done within the framework of normal relations with the legitimate government".
Russian Foreign Ministry Spokeswoman Maria Zakharova in turn noted that Moscow had not violated either international or Venezuelan law with its actions and that it did not "change the balance of forces in the region".
She added that in contrast to Washington, Russia has never threatened anyone in the region and that the Russian troops had arrived in the country for defence cooperation.
“It's the first time that I hear about bases in Venezuela […] Where have you seen such discussions? On Telegram messenger? I have never seen any discussions on the topic of our bases,” Zakharova stressed.
The statement followed reports about a group of Russian military personnel arriving in the Venezuelan capital Caracas on March 23 to take part in consultations with government officials on bilateral defence industry cooperation.