Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro on Wednesday raised the possibility of getting military support from Russia to boost its defensive capabilities after President Donald Trump threatened to use force against the South American nation.
Speaking at an energy forum in Moscow, Maduro said his administration will discuss increased military cooperation with the Russian government during his visit this week.
“I am sure, even if we do not ask, we will be given even more support to boost Venezuela’s defense capacity and sovereignty," Maduro said.
Tensions are running high between Washington and Caracas. After Maduro defied warnings from the White House and rolled back democratic institutions, the Trump administration imposed sanctions as a punishment. Then, in August, Trump stunned U.S. and Venezuelan officials alike by raising the possibility of military force.
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“We have many options for Venezuela, including a possible military option if necessary,” Trump said.
“We are all over the world and we have troops all over the world in places that are very, very far away,” Trump added. “Venezuela is not very far away and people are suffering and dying.”
Maduro and other leaders in Caracas have often accused the United States of plotting invasions and coup attempts. Until Trump’s remark, Washington has always denied it had any military intentions against Venezuela.
Venezuela already has one of the largest stockpiles of Russian arms, including tanks and thousands of surface-to-air weapons. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a Florida Republican, warned of Russia’s expansion, citing operations in Nicaragua, a key ally to Venezuela.
“If Venezuela’s Maduro is using Nicaragua in order to evade U.S. sanctions, we need to take a closer look at these ties, and hold people accountable,” Lehtinen said from the House floor Tuesday.
Maduro, who met Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier Wednesday, said a threat from the United States must be taken seriously. He accused Trump of trying to bully Venezuela and the world, noting that Venezuela has no weapons of mass destruction, no nuclear arms and no military bases in other countries.
But, grabbing his wrist for effect, he said resistance runs in the veins of Venezuelans and that Venezuelan military power should not be discounted.
“We have a glorious history on the battlefield,” he said.
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican and one of the most outspoken critics of the socialist government in Caracas, dismissed Maduro’s comments about the threat facing Venezuela, and took the opportunity to swing at Venezuela’s supporters in Havana.
“The only threat to Venezuela is the Maduro regime itself,” Rubio said. “And the only ones invading are the Castro agents who control it.”
Confident in Russian aid in the face of more threats from Washington, Maduro thanked Moscow for its help and spoke of the respect and mutual admiration between former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Putin that has continued today. Calling it a win-win relationship, Maduro said cooperation with Russia had made Venezuela’s armed forces "three times stronger over the past 15 years."
Maduro thanked Putin publicly for his ongoing support and called him the true leader of the world.
“Putin is the leader of the emerging world, the world we want to live in. Putin carries the banner of decorum, dignity and peace,” he said.