Venezuela's Maduro reportedly being guarded by Russian mercenaries
Russian private security contractors have travelled to Venezuela to provide security to the embattled president Nicolás Maduro, the Reuters news agency has reported.This suggests Maduro's situation is more desperate than he lets on. He may find himself as a hostage of his Russian "guards" at some point. Russia has loaned significant sums to Venezuela as has China. neither is likely to get its money back, but they may attempt to seize some assets.
Citing three sources, the news agency said that the mercenaries are linked to the Wagner group, which has carried out missions in Ukraine and Syria and is now reportedly active in countries in Africa, too.
If it is confirmed that contractors from the group traveled to Venezuela, this would be their first known deployment in the western hemisphere.
Venezuela at the crossroads: the who, what and why of the crisis
“The order came down on Monday to form a group to go to Venezuela. They are there to protect those at the highest levels of the government,” Yevgeny Shabaev, a Cossack leader with ties to military contractors, told the Guardian by telephone.
Shabaev, one of the sources cited by Reuters, is a campaigner for the rights of veterans, a group that overlaps heavily with those who join mercenary groups in Russia. He said he had been told about the trip by the relatives of the military contractors. A government spokesman did not immediately respond for comment about the report, although he had earlier told Reuters that the Kremlin had “no such information”.
The report comes after the US threw its support behind opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president on Wednesday.
Russia and China, both of which have invested heavily in the country, have attacked the US for encroaching on Venezuela’s sovereignty. The Russian president, Vladimir Putin, on Thursday accused the US of “destructive interference from abroad.” The Russian prime minister, Dmitry Medvedev, called it a “quasi-coup”.
The crisis has produced a familiar standoff, with a US-led coalition on one side and Russia and China on the other. But the distances involved have made the conventional wisdom here that Russia is unlikely to provide direct military support to Maduro’s government to avert a US military intervention.