Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport carrying a Russian defence official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.
A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas yesterday.
The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticised as Russian encroachment in the region.
Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.
An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
The cargo plane left Caracas yesterday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.
A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport yesterday.
It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.
Venezuela’s information ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Russia’s defence ministry and foreign ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment.
The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.
The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the Opec nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him.
Maduro has denounced the sanctions as US interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.
In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.
Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid.
Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was co-ordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the US, from entering via the border with Colombia.
Earlier on Saturday Maduro accused the US of using frozen Venezuelan funds to bankroll mercenaries to assassinate him in a “plot” he said was directed by opposition leader Juan Guaido.
“We have dismantled a plan organised personally by the diabolical puppet to kill me,” Maduro told thousands of supporters in Caracas, referring to Guaido, who is recognised as interim president by more than 50 countries.
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