A general view of the interior of the Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas Thursday. The country has this week once again been hit by electricity failure, which also affects water pumps. Photo by Miguel Gutierrez/EPA-EFE
March 28 (UPI) -- Russia said Thursday its military personnel will remain in Venezuela indefinitely as a diplomatic rift develops between the Kremlin and the United States over the cash-strapped nation.
The military will remain there "as long as the Venezuelan government needs them," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Thursday. "It all is being done based on bilateral agreements," she added.
Two Russian airplanes carrying 99 military personnel landed in Caracas this weekend.
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on Monday to warn that Washington "will not stand idly" and criticized "the continued insertion of Russian military personnel" in Venezuela, a country reeling from economic and political instability.
On Wednesday, U.S. President Donald Trump asked Russia to "get out" of Venezuela.
For its part, the Russian government suspects the United States of routing humanitarian aid through the nearby Dutch island of Curacao as a pretext to have its military deliver the goods.
"We've taken note of the agreement signed between the Netherlands and the United States on using the infrastructures of the Curacao island for humanitarian supplies to Venezuela," Zakharova said, according to the state-run TASS news agency. "At first sight this agreement merely opens access for U.S. officials to Curacao's infrastructures exclusively for providing humanitarian aid, but, as it has turned out, this deal does not rule out the possibility of using not only civilian but other means of delivery. Of what type? Clearly, military ones."
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has blamed a widespread blackout that struck the country on March 7 on a cyberattack originating from Houston, Texas, although no evidence has been presented to support the claim.
Maduro said Wednesday night that a "brutal terrorist attack" on the country's electricity system was responsible for the latest blackout, the third to hit the country month, El Nacional reported.
Businesses and schools will continue to be closed until Friday, amid ongoing electricity problems.
Juan Guaido, the opposition leader recognized by nations including the United States as Venezuela's interim president, blames the electrical problems on corruption. He has called for people to protest in the streets once again on Saturday.
Maduro is supported by the military as well as recognized as legitimate president by nations including Russia, Mexico, China, Cuba and North Korea. Guaido is recognized by the United States as well as most Latin American and European countries.