Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov met with Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza on Sunday.
That the two would meet is not surprising — Russia, after all, is economically invested in Venezuela and is standing behind President Nicolás Maduro, who managed to remain in power last week after opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s attempt to stir a military uprising failed. Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January and is recognized as the country’s legitimate leader by several nations, including the United States.
But the timing of the Lavrov-Arreaza meeting is, if not surprising, then at least conspicuous. On Friday, two days before the foreign ministers met, President Trump said at a news conference with Slovak Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini that he had spoken with Russian President Vladimir Putin over the phone.
“I had a very good talk with President Putin — probably over an hour,” Trump said. “And we talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela.”
The Russian Embassy in Washington said in a statement on its Facebook page that Trump, not Putin, had initiated the call and that the two spoke for 90 minutes, not an hour. The statement said Putin “underscored that only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine the future of their country, whereas outside interference in the country’s internal affairs and attempts to change the government in Caracas by force undermine prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.”
It was a message Lavrov “underscored” when sitting down with Arreaza on Sunday. Ahead of his meeting, Lavrov said the United States should halt what he called its “irresponsible” campaign to overthrow Maduro. Afterward, Lavrov reiterated, “We call on the U.S. government to stop their irresponsible actions against international law.”
Lavrov noted that there appears to be some distance between Trump’s and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s positions on the possibility of the use of force in Venezuela.
Pompeo told ABC News’s “This Week” on Sunday that the United States has not ruled out “ultimately” using military action in Venezuela.
Lavrov said Trump “didn’t say anything like that” in his call with Putin.
Lavrov will have the opportunity to point out the rhetorical disparity to Pompeo personally. On Monday, the Russian official will travel to Finland, where he is to meet with the U.S. secretary of state. Pompeo said on “This Week” that he expected to work with Lavrov to potentially arrange a second meeting between Trump and Putin. Their first summit was in Helsinki in July. Pompeo also said he had not seen “the full context” of Trump’s remarks asserting that Putin does not intend to get involved in Venezuela.