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'Akin to a Tripwire': Russian Troops in Venezuela Complicate U.S. Regime Change Plans

The Russian move may stymie, or at least slow, U.S. efforts to overthrow the Venezuelan government.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on October 4, 2017 in Moscow, Russia.

Russian President Vladimir Putin greets Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro on October 4, 2017 in Moscow, Russia. (Photo: Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images)

Russia's involvement in the Venezuelan crisis has American officials crying foul as U.S. plans for regime change in the Latin American country are now facing further complications. 

U.S. State Department spokesman Robert Palladino, in a statement related to a conversation Secretary of State Mike Pompeo had with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, said that the U.S. "will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela" after between 99 and 100 Russian troops and one defense official arrived in the Latin American country Saturday, complicating efforts by the U.S. to overthrow President Nicolas Maduro's government. 

"The continued insertion of Russian military personnel to support the illegitimate regime Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people," Palladino's statement continued.

Russia and Venezuela are strengthening their diplomatic and military ties as the U.S. ramps up rhetoric and sanctions and masses troops on the Venezuelan border with Colombia.

Saturday's move indicates that Russian President Vladimir Putin is stepping up his country's support of the Latin American country and its elected leader as Venezuela attempts to survive escalating economic and political crises.

The military personnel are in Venezuela "to take part in consultations with country's officials on defense industry cooperation," according to the Russian news agency Sputnik. Noting that the visit was related to contracts that were signed two years ago, a Russian defense official told Sputnik there was "nothing mysterious" about the visit. 

By putting its troops on the ground in Venezuela, Russia is sending a clear message to Washington that the Latin American country is under the Kremlin's protection. President Donald Trump's administration has continually ratcheted up tensions with Venezuela for Trump's term in office.

The Russian move may stymie, or at least slow, U.S. efforts to change the Venezuelan government, but proponents of war and military action are still pushing forward with their plans.

"Today my bill, the Russia-Venezuelan Threat Mitigation Act, goes to the House floor, requiring a State Department threat assessment of Russian influence in Venezuela," tweeted Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.). 

What Russia is doing by putting troops on the ground, as Washington Institute fellow Soner Cagaptay pointed out, is deterring American aggression—a tactic the Russians learned from the U.S. 

"Russia's deployment of a small number of troops to Venezuela is akin to tripwire, not unlike the 'small U.S. troop presence' in the Baltics, which has deterred direct Russian military intervention in that region," said Cagapaty.

 

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