After being deployed to Ukraine, extremely active in Syria and the Central African Republic, and spotted in Sudan, Russian mercenaries have reportedly been deployed to Venezuela to shore up the rule of the Chavista socialist dictator Nicolas Maduro.
Russia has invested billions into propping up the Maduro regime and look to protect this investment by keeping him in power. The Trump administration has recognized opposition candidate Juan Guaidó as the interim president and is supporting the demonstrations against the government. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently pledged $20 million to the effort.
Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary group of Cossacks with ties to Russian military contractors, said he had heard the number of Russian contractors in Venezuela may be about 400, reported The Moscow Times.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow knew nothing about the deployment, as with all other mercenary operations ‘in-country’. “We have no such information,” he declared.
The Moscow Times reported comments from a source within the organization writing, Citing contacts in a Russian state security structure, Shabayev said the contingent flew to Venezuela at the start of this week, a day or two before opposition protests started.
He said they set off in two chartered aircraft for Havana, Cuba, from where they transferred onto regular commercial flights to Venezuela. The Cuban government, a close ally of Venezuela’s ruling socialists for the last two decades, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The contractors’ task in Venezuela was to protect Maduro from any attempt by opposition sympathisers in his own security forces to detain him, Shabayev said.
“Our people are there directly for his protection,” he said.
Venezuela is not Syria; Latin America is vitally important to American interests and it’s hard to see POTUS just letting this one go. This scenario is shaping up to be the first real conflict of the new Cold War between Russia and the United States, where each has skin in the game and reputations on the line.