Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist in the area.
— CNW (@ConflictsW) March 23, 2019
Reuters reports the landing appears to be strengthening ties between governments in Caracas and Moscow.
A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.
The report comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.
Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes of material.
ULTIMA HORA Esta tarde llegó al aeropuerto de Maiquetía una comitiva de 99 militares rusos, al mando del ministro de la Defensa del país mayor gral Vasilly Tonkoshkurov. Fueron recibidos en rampa presidencial por la VA Marianny Mata,dir Asuntos Internacionales e Integración(1/2)
— Javier I. Mayorca (@javiermayorca) March 24, 2019
An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.
A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.
It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.
The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.