Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro as he welcomes supporters participating in an 'anti-imperialist' protest, at the Miraflores Palace, in Caracas, Venezuela, 23 March 2019. Photo EPA-EFE/Prensa Miraflores
March 25 (UPI) -- Two Russian military airplanes carrying 99 Russian military members landed in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, to take part in consultations with country officials on defense cooperation, a Russian news agency reported Monday.
Contracts related to the arrival of the planes Saturday were signed by the two countries years ago and there is "nothing mysterious," a diplomatic source told Sputnik. No other information was provided other than it was "a group of Russian military personnel."
Sputnik also reported that on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov had received a phone call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo saying https://sputniknews.com/world/201903251073524212-pompeo-venezuela-russia-tensions/ the U.S. "will not stand idly."
"The continued insertion of Russian military personnel to support the illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela risks prolonging the suffering of the Venezuelan people who overwhelmingly support interim President Juan Guaido," Pompeo had told Lavrov, according to the report.
Spain's El Pais said the arrival occurred just hours after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro had said he needed to reinforce his personal security.
"We have just dismantled a plan that this diabolical puppet was personally directing to kill me," Maduro had said, referring to the head of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, who is leading efforts to set up an interim government and have new free elections take place.
The airplanes were an Antonov An-124 of the Russian Air Force and an Ilyushin II-2 passenger airplane, El Pais added.
El Nacional had said a day earlier that Javier Mayorca, a Venezuelan journalist, had tweeted about the arrival of the 99 Russian military personnel headed by Maj. Gen. Vasilly Tonkoshkurov. No other details on the personnel or on the equipment was provided.
"Immediately after, at 2 p.m. local time, a Russian cargo plane landed with 35 metric tons of materials that belonged to the group that had just arrived," EL Nacional reported, citing the journalist's second tweet.
Tension has increased in Venezuela over the fight for leadership led by Maduro, who enjoys the backing of the military, and Guaido, who daily leads marches throughout Venezuela, daring Maduro to come out to the streets.
In recent days, the Maduro government has dealt a heavy blow to Guaido by arresting in an early morning raid the second-ranking person in his interim government, chief of staff Roberto Marrero. Marrero will be indicted with terrorism charges over weapons possession, which he denies, Maduro's government has said.
Venezuela is undergoing a political crisis that has led more than 3 million of its citizens to leave the country and escape scarcity of food and medicine, rampant political violence and hyperinflation.
The political crisis in Venezuela worsened after Maduro was sworn in for a second term Jan. 10, despite warnings by several countries and organizations that he should call new elections.
His 2018 reelection occurred vote without opposition, which led many nations to claim the process was marred.
The United States and most European and Latin American countries recognize Guaido. Russia, China, Cuba, Mexico and North Korea are among the countries that still recognize Maduro as leader.