Russian military aircraft land in Venezuela

Sasha Odynova

Two Russian aircraft carrying military officials arrived in Venezuela over the weekend as part of the ongoing military cooperation between the two countries, Russian media has reported.

A diplomatic source told RIA Novosti that Russia and Venezuela have a number of ongoing contracts signed a few years ago, including ones in technical military cooperation, and the military personnel arrived to take part in bilateral consultations.

“There is nothing mysterious” about the visit, the unnamed source was quoted as saying.

According to popular flight-tracking website Flightradar24, Russian Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping on its way in Syria before landing in Caracas.

Javier Mayorca, a Venezuelan journalist, wrote on Twitter on Saturday that about 100 troops and 35 tonnes of cargo was offloaded from the Russian planes, one of which was carrying chief of staff of the ground forces, Vasily Tonkoshkurov.

The two planes with Russian flags and a group of men in military uniform were photographed at the airport.

The Russian Defense Ministry has not commented on the reports.

The planes arrive three months after the two long-time allies held joint military exercises in Venezuela.

Moscow and Caracas have strengthened ties in recent months as the Kremlin continues to support President Nicolás Maduro and criticizes Western nations for backing Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself interim president in January.

Last week, US and Russian officials held talks on Venezuela’s crisis which ended with the two sides failing to narrow their positions.  Russian officials say they are concerned that Washington is considering a military solution in Venezuela.

While the US continues to impose sanctions against the oil-rich country, President Maduro’s government is becoming more and more dependent on its few remaining supporters – Russia and China.

Venezuelan senior officials have come frequent visitors in Moscow, and this month Venezuela announced its plan to move state oil company PDVSA’s office to Moscow from Lisbon.

Mr Maduro on Wednesday said Russia was planning to send medical aid this week. He said that last month Moscow had sent some 300 tonnes of humanitarian aid to Venezuela, which has been experiencing severe shortages of food.