Two Russian military planes loaded with troops landed in Venezuela amid an escalating national crisis in the country, according to a Mar. 24, 2019, Reuters report. The planes departed from a Russian military airport and landed in Caracas just months after the two countries conducted military exercises in Venezuela.
The exercises also included troops from Cuba and China and were conducted along the Venezuelan border with Colombia. The planes were filled with at least 100 Russian troops that some say are a message to the Trump Administration, but will likely be helping the Venezuelan military settle the crisis there.
One of the planes carried the troops while another brought tons of military supplies and equipment. Venezuela’s military is the critical component to holding power there. President Nicolas Maduro maintains a tenuous grip on power because of the military, along with armed groups of militiamen whose role is to keep civilians in line. Those militias can be seen primarily along the Venezuelan border and are being used to keep American aid out of the country.
Challenging Maduro’s legitimacy is opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the legitimate President of Venezuela, with the backing of the United States. At least 50 other countries have recognized Guaido’s claim to power.
While the Chinese interest in Venezuela is primarily seen as a financial one – it has a lot invested in Venezuela’s neglected oil sector – Russian interest is believed to be an attempted check on American interventionism worldwide. Russian President Vladimir Putin may even establish a permanent Russian military presence in the country as a way to show the United States it means business.
Another indication that Russia is serious about bolstering the Maduro regime is that the planes allegedly carried Russian General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, the Chief of Staff of the Russian ground forces, with the rest of the Russian troops.
The United States criticized the move as Russian interference in the region. The planes were sighted at the airport in Caracas by a local journalist, who checked the planes against a flight tracking website. The site confirmed the Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 cargo plane departed Russia for Venezuela, after a brief stop in Syria.
Both Russia and Venezuela have not yet commented on what the troops will be doing there.