WASHINGTON – Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday warned against “destructive interference” in Venezuela from outside forces and called President Nicolas Maduro to reaffirm Moscow’s support for the embattled leader – one day after the Trump administration declared Maduro’s presidency illegitimate.
Putin’s phone call to Maduro was a rebuke to President Donald Trump’s efforts to undercut the Venezuelan president.
A senior Russian official said military intervention in Venezuela would create a “catastrophic scenario” in the region.
“We warn against this,” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said in an interview with International Affairs magazine, a Russian media outlet. “We believe that this would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model we see in the Latin American region.”
In his phone call with Maduro, Putin “stressed that destructive outside interference grossly violated the fundamental norms of international law,” according to a report from Russia’s state-owned media outlet Tass.
Wednesday, Trump recognized Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, as the country’s interim president – saying the incumbent leftist Maduro is not the country’s legitimate leader.
When asked whether the United States was considering military action, Trump said, “We’re not considering anything, but all options (are) on the table.” Other administration officials emphasized using economic sanctions, not military force.
“What we’re focusing on today is disconnecting the illegitimate Maduro regime from the source of its revenues,” Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said Thursday, according to a White House pool report.
The Trump administration seeks a United Nations Security Council meeting Saturday to discuss the Venezuelan crisis. Bolton said the administration was working with other governments in the region and in Europe to strengthen Guaido’s position.
“We’re talking to our colleagues in Europe and elsewhere to demonstrate widespread political support for the interim presidency,” Bolton said, “and we’re moving to do everything we can to strengthen this new legitimate representative government.”
United Kingdom Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he supported the U.S. move to recognize Guaido.
“We are extremely concerned about the situation in Venezuela, but it is clear that Nicholas Maduro is not the legitimate leader of Venezuela,” Hunt said during a visit to Washington on Thursday. “I will be meeting Vice President (Mike) Pence and Secretary of State (Mike) Pompeo later this afternoon to discuss this further.”
Pompeo said Thursday that the United States would deliver $20 million in humanitarian assistance to Venezuela “as soon as logistically possible” to help it cope with its economic crisis.
Maduro was sworn in Jan. 10 to a second term amid allegations of vote rigging and other electoral fraud. His country in upheaval, Guaido declared himself interim president Wednesday, saying he was “formally assuming the responsibility of the national executive.”
Thousands of Venezuelans staged anti-Maduro protests, calling on the leader to step down as the country reels from spiraling inflation and a shortage of food and medicine. The Associated Press reported that at least a dozen protesters have been killed in the escalating confrontation with Maduro’s regime, citing figures from a nonprofit monitoring group, the Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said Wednesday in recognizing Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.
Maduro responded by cutting diplomatic ties with the United States and giving American diplomats stationed in Venezuela 72 hours to leave. Pompeo said U.S. Embassy staff would remain at the invitation of Guaido.
“The United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata,” Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday night.
Several other Latin American countries, along with Canada, recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s leader.
Russia has staunchly backed Maduro’s government, politically and militarily. The Kremlin dispatched two Russian bombers to Venezuela last month, a move that raised red flags in Washington.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin