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.