U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has criticized the Russian government for its deployment of bombers to Venezuela.
“The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer,” Pompeo wrote in a tweet on Dec. 10.
#Russia's government has sent bombers halfway around the world to #Venezuela. The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer. pic.twitter.com/bCBGbGtaHT
— Secretary Pompeo (@SecPompeo) December 11, 2018
Pompeo posted on Twitter a photo of a Tupolev Tu-160, a plane capable of carrying nuclear-tipped cruise missiles.
It’s not clear if the planes are carrying weapons. The ministry also didn’t state how long the aircraft would stay in Venezuela.
The bombers, according to Russian officials, were followed by Norwegian F-18 fighter jets during the flight. It added that a cargo plane and a passenger plane accompanied the bombers to the socialist country.
Tu-160 “Blackjack” bombers were deployed in Russia’s campaign in Syria, where they used Kh-101 cruise missiles. But the bombers can carry nuclear missiles with a range of 3,410 miles, which is well within the range of the U.S. mainland.
Venezuelan Minister of Defense Vladimir Padrino López claimed the bombers were not intended to provoke the United States, “We are makers of peace, not war,” he said, according to the Guardian. Meanwhile, Russia’s ambassador in Caracas, Vladimir Zaemskiy, spoke about the “very fruitful” Venezuela–Russia partnership.
In December, U.S. Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said Venezuelan socialist leader Nicolás Maduro is an irresponsible “despot” who is transforming his country into a hellscape, saying that “ultimately this regime is going to have to go” for the country to improve.
He didn’t suggest any American role in such a process, however. “It’s up to the Venezuelan people, it’s up to the regional states in that area to help expedite that and bring that country back to a more prosperous and positive future,” he said, according to a Reuters report.
Last year, Trump said he wouldn’t rule out a military action against Venezuela.
“We have many options for Venezuela and by the way, I’m not going to rule out a military option,” he said during an Aug. 10, 2017, press conference. “A military operation and military option is certainly something that we could pursue.”
A Pentagon spokesman, Robert Manning, stated that Russia’s military deployment is not appropriate due to the humanitarian “tragedy” in Venezuela, according to the Guardian.
“Contrast this with Russia, whose approach to the manmade disaster in Venezuela is to send bomber aircraft instead of humanitarian assistance,” he said.
Russia is a major political ally of Venezuela, which has become increasingly isolated in the world under growing sanctions led by the United States and the European Union, which accuse Maduro of undermining democratic institutions to hold onto power while overseeing an economic and political crisis that is worse than the Great Depression. Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said at last week’s meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, López, that Russia would continue to send its military aircraft and warships to visit Venezuela as part of a bilateral military cooperation, according to AP.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.