CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro pledged a “powerful military cooperation” with Russia following high-level discussions between officials Wednesday, a day after diplomats from the U.S. and several other nations gathered to discuss steps toward a negotiated solution to the South American country’s protracted crisis.
“We have reviewed the powerful military cooperation, and we have ratified the path of a powerful military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela for the defense of peace, of sovereignty, the defense of territorial integrity,” Maduro said during a news conference. “We are going to increase all the preparation, training and cooperation plans with a military power in the world such as Russia.”
The remarks came about a month after Maduro and Russian President Vladimir Putin spoke by phone about cooperation between their countries amid talk of possible Russian troop deployment to Venezuela.
Flanked by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov and Venezuelan Petroleum Minister Tareck El Aissami, Maduro said economic, commercial and tourism matters were also discussed Wednesday.
Russia is a major political ally of Venezuela, which has become increasingly isolated under economic sanctions imposed by the U.S. and the European Union, accusing Maduro of undermining democratic institutions to hold onto power. It has also undergone massive economic and political crises.
Representatives of Maduro and the U.S.-backed opposition gathered last year in Mexico City to find a common path out of their country’s political standoff, but those discussions were suspended in October.
Representatives from the U.S. the EU and more than a dozen other countries on Tuesday discussed the importance of scheduling “free and fair” presidential elections under an independent electoral agency no later than 2024 — when they should theoretically take place — according to a statement from the U.S. State Department.
They also discussed “urgently resuming inclusive negotiations in Mexico in good faith,” according to the statement.
Russia previously helped Venezuela design a cryptocurrency and briefly dispatched a pair of its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers in 2018. It also provided coronavirus vaccines, for which Maduro expressed his gratitude Wednesday.
“We have walked the 21st century together, the people, the government of Russia and Venezuela and ... we have built the map of cooperation to continue walking together, united,” Maduro said.
Last month, Russia’s chief negotiator in talks with the U.S. on tensions over Ukraine said he would “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the U.S. and its allies don’t curtail their military activities on Russia’s doorstep. The U.S. dismissed the comments from Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov as bluster.