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U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned nations "external to the Western Hemisphere" against deploying military assets to Venezuela, less than a week after Russian troops and planes landed at an airport near Caracas.

"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," Bolton said in a statement Friday. "We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region."

While the U.S. is trying to pressure autocrat Nicolas Maduro to step down, Russia has continued to cultivate ties to the regime. On Wednesday, President Donald Trump said that Russia "needs to get out" of Venezuela. Neither Trump nor Bolton said what they would do if Russia didn't heed their warnings.

Russia "is not threatening anyone," and its increased military presence in Venezuela doesn't change the balance of forces there, Foreign Ministry spokesman Maria Zakharova said Thursday at a televised press briefing.

Tensions between the U.S. and Russia escalated over the weekend when a Russian Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane arrived at the international airport outside Caracas last Saturday. Sputnik, a Russian state news outlet, cited unnamed embassy officials in Caracas to report that the troops and 35 tons of cargo under the command of General Vasily Tonkoshkurov arrived to "exchange consultations."

Hours before Bolton's statement, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he'd talk about increasing the country's purchases of Venezuelan oil with Manuel Quevedo, Venezuela's oil minister. The two are set to meet next week in Moscow, Novak told reporters.

A Venezuelan Information Ministry official, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he isn't authorized to comment publicly, said the visit was to perform maintenance on Russian military equipment the nation had purchased.

Separately, the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies said Friday that it is poised to deliver aid to Venezuela, warning that it will not accept any interference from Maduro or opposition leader Juan Guaido.

Federation president Francesco Rocca said at a news conference in the capital of Caracas that the humanitarian network can start distributing assistance to an estimated 650,000 people in the South American country in around 15 days.

On Twitter, however, Guaido almost immediately claimed credit for the effort, saying the announcement amounted to a victory for "our struggle."

He also said medical aid would be coming into Venezuela in a matter of days, reiterating a promise that he was forced to renege on in February after security forces blocked U.S.-backed assistance from entering the country and clashed with protesters.

Guaido said Venezuelans should stay vigilant to make sure incoming aid is not diverted for "corrupt" purposes but did not expound on the logistics of aid shipments nor say whether any agreement had been made with Maduro to let them in.

The leader of the opposition-controlled National Assembly has previously rejected the idea of negotiations with Maduro, saying his embattled adversary must resign immediately so that elections can be held.

Maduro, who has previously denied that Venezuela was suffering a humanitarian crisis, did not immediately comment.

Information for this article was contributed by Joshua Gallu of Bloomberg News; and by Christopher Torchia and Matthew Lee of The Associated Press.

A Section on 03/30/2019

Print Headline: U.S. warns against meddling

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