The reports of private military contractors working in Venezuela on the side of President Nicolas Maduro coming at the moment when embattled socialist Maduro strengthen security amid opposition protests and a competing claim to leadership.
The report on January 25, cites two people close to the contractors. A third source close to the contractors confirmed that they had arrived in Venezuela but did not specify their role, Reuters reported. The private military contractors are allegedly belonging to Wagner, an anonymous group allegedly operation on behalf of Russia.
One source said the contractors flew to Venezuela from third countries where they had been conducting operations. The news agency reported that the Russian Defense Ministry and Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not respond to requests for comment about the private military contractors.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said briefly that “they don’t have such information.”
Yevgeny Shabayev, head of the All-Russia Officers Assembly with alleged ties to Russian military contractors, said he had heard the number of Russian contractors in Venezuela could be around 400, although other sources spoke of smaller numbers.
Reuters also quoted sources as saying the private military contractors are under command of the so-called Wagner group. The Wagner consist mostly of former Russian service personnel who have been involved in clandestine operations in foreign countries.
So far, members of Wagner have been reported in other countries, including Syria, Ukraine, and in African nations.
On January 23, Russia Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova confirmed that private military contractors were operating in Sudan after British press reports stated that they were helping to crack down on protesters in that country, which is an ally of Moscow.
“According to our information, representatives of Russian private security companies, who have nothing to do with Russian state bodies, are operating in Sudan,” she said.
Zakharova denied the press reports and said the task of the private security firms “is limited to training staff for the military and law-enforcement agencies of the Republic of Sudan.”
Since the beginning of the Venezuela crisis, an estimated 3 million people have fled the country amid shortages of items like medicine and food.
Back in November, a SU-27 made two close passes near Navy EP-3 Aries Reconnaissance Aircraft
A Russian SU-27 fighter came dangerously close to a Navy EP-3 Aries reconnaissance aircraft over the Black Sea, defense officials said. The incident occurred back in November 2018.
The U.S. Navy aircraft was in international airspace and had its transponder on as the SU-27 made two close passes, said Pentagon spokesman Eric Pahon shortly after the incident.
“We classified it as unsafe,” Pahon told reporters. “They didn’t establish radio contact. They came really, really close to our aircraft. I don’t have an estimate of distance – but really, really close to our aircraft – and then they engaged the afterburners and the entire aircraft shook.
“There’s just absolutely no reason for this type of behavior,” he continued. “This type of behavior is unacceptable. We call attention to it when it does occur. It puts our aircraft and air crews in danger.
November’s incident was the second such close encounter since January, 2018 when another Russian SU-27 came within five feet of a Navy EP-3 and then crossed through the Navy aircraft’s flight path, causing the EP-3 to fly through the Russian fighter’s jet wash.
The Russian defense ministry denied that one of its fighters flew too close to a Navy EP-3. The footage can be seen below.
Russian deployment in Venezuela includes special forces
A Russian military contingent that arrived in Venezuela over the weekend, drawing US condemnation, is believed by the US government to be made up of special forces including “cybersecurity personnel”, a US official said.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 US President Donald Trump disavowed Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro.Venezuela’s government has confirmed two planes landed from Russia at the weekend and were authorised by Maduro but has given no more details.
Flight tracking websites said the planes, an Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane, had taken off from Russian military airports.One of them had flown from Moscow via Syria, where Russia supports President Bashar al-Assad.
The Trump administration has recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the country’s legitimate president and demands that Maduro step down. Russia has described this as a US-backed coup against the socialist government.The US 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.Russia’s main objective in providing the military help, including cyber experts, would likely be to help shield Maduro from “regime change” and ensure a foothold for Moscow in Latin America, according to a source familiar with US government assessments of Venezuela.
Russia also has major energy investments in OPEC member Venezuela. In December, Russia sent two nuclear-capable long range bombers to Venezuela for several days to participate in what it said were joint exercises. Russia’s foreign ministry said on Tuesday that the presence of “Russian specialists” in Venezuela was governed by a military-technical cooperation agreement between the two countries.It did not provide further details.
However, Sputnik, a Russian state news outlet, cited unnamed embassy officials in Caracas to report that troops and 35 tonnes of cargo under the command of General Vasily Tonkoshkurov arrived to “exchange consultations”.