Russia is dismissing a U.S. demand that it withdraw its military personnel from Venezuela, saying that their presence in the country is fully legitimate.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in a statement late Tuesday that the presence of Russian military personnel in Venezuela was "in strict accordance" with the Venezuelan constitution and a bilateral agreement on military cooperation. She said it didn’t require approval by Venezuela's opposition-controlled National Assembly.
Zakharova did not say how many Russian military experts had gone to Venezuela, but news reports indicated that two Russian planes delivered about 100 servicemen and 35 tons of cargo to Venezuela over the weekend.
On Wednesday, Zakharova lashed out at the U.S. call on Russia to withdraw its military personnel, saying President Trump should first honor his own pledge from last fall to withdraw U.S. forces from Syria.
"Some liken the U.S. to an elephant in a china shop, but those animals behave delicately and reasonably," Zakharova said. The United States "acts on the international arena more like a cowboy in the Louvre Museum."
The U.S. and several dozen other nations have cast their support behind Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido and recognized him as interim president, asserting that Nicolas Maduro's reelection last year as the country’s president was illegitimate.
Russia and China, which invested heavily in Venezuela’s oil industries, have staunchly backed Maduro.
The rift over Venezuela has further strained Russia-U.S. ties, which have plunged to post-Cold War lows over the conflict in Ukraine, the war in Syria and Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
Speaking on Russian state television, Konstantin Kosachev, the head of the foreign affairs committee in the upper house of Russian Parliament, also defended Moscow's military cooperation with Venezuela as "fully legitimate."
He rejected the U.S. demands on Russia to end support for Maduro as "totally unacceptable" and invited the U.S. to "set a good example" by cutting its own global presence.