MOSCOW — The Kremlin on Tuesday denied having told the United States that it was pulling personnel out of Venezuela, contradicting a Twitter posting a day earlier by President Trump.
“There have been no official messages in this regard from the Russian side nor could there be any,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
On Monday, Trump posted on Twitter: “Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela.”
Moscow is a primary backer of Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro. National security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have charged that Russia has boosted its military, diplomatic and economic support to Maduro in the face of U.S. efforts to oust him.
Peskov said he had no idea what Trump’s tweet was referring to. About 100 Russian military personnel arrived in Caracas aboard two military planes in March. U.S. officials said they thought their purpose was to perform maintenance on the Russian S-300 air defense system, and that they would leave when it was completed.
“We don’t know what ‘removed most of their people’ means,” Peskov said. “In fact, there are specialists there who service the hardware shipped to Venezuela earlier. This process is going in an orderly manner.”
Peskov said Trump may have simply been referring to a newspaper report. The Wall Street Journal reported that Russian defense conglomerate Rostec had cut its staff of defense advisers in Venezuela, once totaling about 1,000, to a few dozen. Rostec, in a statement, denied the report.
Russian officials have insisted that the country’s stance on Venezuela hasn’t changed. Moscow refers to Maduro as the legitimate president of the Venezuela, a key Russian ally in the Western Hemisphere. It describes American support for Juan Guaidó, the leader of Venezuela’s elected National Assembly whom the United States recognizes as interim president, as illegal interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs.
Rosoboronexport, Russia’s state defense export company, said it was planning to deepen cooperation with Venezuela.
“Rosoboronexport and other Russian entities engaged in military-technical cooperation with Venezuela are committed to deepening interaction with the Defense Ministry and other government agencies of Venezuela,” the company press service said Monday, according to the Interfax news agency.
Troianovski reported from Berlin. Natalia Abbakumova in Moscow and Karen DeYoung in Washington contributed to this report.