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Russian diplomats have tried to buy riot gear in Malta and allegedly load it on a warship en route to Venezuela, in a move that raises concerns in the EU and the U.S. that Russia wants to increase its military presence in Venezuela, BuzzFeed News reported on Thursday, citing officials.
Russia has also asked Malta for permission to dock the Russian anti-submarine ship, the Severomorsk, in Malta for several days at the end of this month, BuzzFeed News Europe Editor Alberto Nardelli reports, quoting a senior government official from Malta. On Tuesday this week, Russia withdrew the request for the ship to dock on the Mediterranean island, but Malta would have denied the request anyway, according to BuzzFeed News’ sources.
This is not the first report of Russia trying to boost its military presence in Venezuela, where Moscow is the staunchest supporter and ally of Nicolas Maduro’s regime in the political power struggle in the Latin American country sitting on top of the world’s largest oil reserves.
The U.S. and many European nations have recognized Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president. Russia, however, has stood by Maduro for years and has poured billions of U.S. dollars in Venezuela in the form of loans and oil investments.
Russia’s state-controlled oil giant Rosneft has extended US$6 billion of loans to Venezuela’s state oil firm PDVSA. As of December 31, 2018, Venezuela still owed Rosneft US$2.3 billion.
Two Russian planes with 100 troops landed in Venezuela at the end of March, Reuters reported, citing media reports and flight tracking websites. The move is the latest signal of strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow amid growing pressure on the Maduro government from Washington.
It also comes three months after the Venezuelan and Russian army conducted joint military exercises in Venezuela. At the time, the U.S. government slammed the exercises as Russian “encroachment” in South America.
Meanwhile, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said in an interview with Bloomberg News on Wednesday that the Trump Administration was looking to persuade Russia to ditch support for Maduro.
By Tsvetana Paraskova for Oilprice.com
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Tsvetana is a writer for Oilprice.com with over a decade of experience writing for news outlets such as iNVEZZ and SeeNews.