Russian deployment in Venezuela includes special forces

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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”.

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