Russia rotates military 'technicians' from crisis-hit Venezuela
ATTENTION - UPDATES with comments by Russian, US officials ///
Moscow, June 27, 2019 (AFP) - Russia rotated military technicians out of
crisis-hit Venezuela on Wednesday, its embassy in Caracas said, as the regime
declared that it thwarted an alleged coup plot.
Russia -- whose president, Vladimir Putin, meets his US counterpart Donald
Trump later this week -- angered Washington three months ago by sending around
100 military experts to Venezuela.
Russia is a major backer of President Nicolas Maduro, whom the United
States is seeking to oust.
"The Il-62 plane which is carrying Russian technicians who have been in
Venezuela over the past months... is leaving Caracas for Moscow on June 26,"
the Russian embassy in Caracas said in a post on Facebook.
The embassy earlier tweeted that an aircraft had arrived on Monday bringing
another technical team for "regular maintenance" of Russian equipment.
It linked to comments by Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov who
said that no new technicians were coming.
Ryabkov denied a Russian military "presence" in Venezuela, saying it was
about "the fulfilment of after-sale service contracts."
In Washington, a senior US official also said that the total number of
Russian technicians "will not change substantially."
After the United States demanded the withdrawal of the Russians in March,
Moscow said the experts would stay "for as long as needed." Russian
mercenaries are also believed to be operating in Venezuela.
Maduro has been locked in a months-long power struggle with opposition
leader Juan Guaido, who in January declared himself acting president, claiming
Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate.
More than 50 countries led by the United States lined up behind national
assembly head Guaido, but Russia and China have backed Maduro.
In a renewal of instability, Maduro on Wednesday warned he would be
"ruthless" with the opposition after his government said it had thwarted a
plot to assassinate him.
In early June, The Wall Street Journal said Russia has cut its staff in
Venezuela to just a few dozen, from about 1,000 at the height of cooperation
between Moscow and Caracas several years ago.
The pullout was due to a lack of fresh contracts and the realisation that
Maduro's regime no longer has the money to pay for Moscow's services, the
Russia denied the report at the time.
After the report Trump tweeted that "Russia has informed us that they have
removed most of their people from Venezuela," which Moscow denied.
Trump will meet Putin on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Osaka.