Venezuela crisis: 'Kremlin-linked' military contractors arrive to provide security for Maduro

Shehab Khan

Kremlin-linked military contractors have flown to Venezuela to provide security for Nicolas Maduro, reports say, as the president says he is willing to engage in talks with the opposition.

While the US intensified its push to drive the Venezuelan president from power, Russia has vowed to back its South American ally.

US secretary of state Mike Pompeo is set to brief the UN Security Council on 26 January after the US and a string of countries in the region said they recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as the nation’s legitimate head of state and urged Mr Maduro to step down.

Russia opposed the US’s request to speak at the UN and instead accused Washington of engaging in a “destructive” foreign policy.

Private military contractors linked to Russia have flown into Venezuela in the past few days to beef up security for Mr Maduro, who has been in power since 2013, Reuters cited sources as saying.

Mr Maduro held a news conference on Friday to defend the validity of his presidency and denounce Mr Guaido’s challenge.

He said the declaration was “a desperate act” backed by the US.

But he said that he would be willing to go to talks even if he “had to go naked”.

Earlier, US diplomats left their embassy in Caracas in a convoy of sport utility vehicles and with a police escort en route to the airport, according to a witness.

The state department ordered some US government workers to leave Venezuela and said US citizens there should consider leaving as well.

It did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the movement of embassy personnel.

Their departure came after Mr Maduro broke off relations with Washington and ordered the US personnel out.

Additional reporting by agencies