By Jon Dougherty
POTUS Donald Trump’s national security adviser has warned Russia that placing troops in Venezuela is a “direct threat” to peace and stability in the region that the United States won’t tolerate.
“We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations,” White House national security adviser John Bolton said in a statement.
He also warned Moscow against any expansion of its military presence in the South American country, which has been rocked with political turmoil for months as the country’s socialist economy continues its slow-motion collapse.
“We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region,” Bolton added.
The Kremlin noted that the deployment of about 100 Russian “specialists” to Venezuela was part of a military mutual assistance agreement with President Nicolas Maduro and that their presence did not pose any threat to the U.S. or the region.
But the deployment of Russian troops comes a few months after President Vladimir Putin sent a pair of nuclear-capable Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers to Venezuela in what many saw as a clear show of force.
The bombers were spotted by satellites managed by DigitalGlobe, a private company.Â The Associated Press reported:
Two Russian nuclear-capable strategic bombers arrived in Venezuela on Monday, a deployment that comes amid soaring Russia-U.S. tensions.
Russiaâ€™s Defense Ministry said a pairÂ Tu-160 bombersÂ landed at Maiquetia airport outside Caracas on Monday following a 10,000-kilometer (6,200-mile) flight. It didnâ€™t say if the bombers were carrying any weapons and didnâ€™t say how long they will stay in Venezuela.
The ministry said the bombers were shadowed by Norwegian F-18 fighter jets during part of their flight. It added that a heavy-lift An-124 Ruslan cargo plane and an Il-62 passenger plane accompanied the bombers to Maiquetia.
The bombers can carry nuclear-tipped cruise missiles with a range of about 3,400 miles. The Russian air force has been steadily upgrading its fleet of Tu-160s in recent years. It can fly twice the speed of sound and is equipped with new avionics and weapons. Moscow also plans to produce a new version of the bomber, though it’s not clear how many will be built or when.
Moscow has invested billions in Venezuela’s oil sector, which holds the largest known reserves in the world. But the country’s oil industry, like every other sector, has suffered from neglect due to a lack of funds to sustain it.
At the end of 2015, managers at Rosneft, the Russian state-controlled oil firm, sounded the alarm to their bosses about the companyâ€™s investments in Venezuela. Rosneftâ€™s local partner, Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA, owed it hundreds of millions of dollars, according to internal documents, and there seemed no prospect things would get better.
â€œIt will be like this for eternity,â€ a Rosneft internal auditor wrote in an email to a colleague in November 2015, complaining there was no progress in getting PDVSA to explain a $700 million hole in the balance sheet of a joint venture. …Â
Rosneft has poured around $9 billion into Venezuelan projects since 2010 but has yet to break even, Reuters has calculated, based on Rosneftâ€™s annual reports, its public disclosures and the internal documents.
Despite U.S. warnings, Russia is in Venezuela to protect its sinkhole investments — money Moscow really can’t afford to lose.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10
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