WASHINGTON – A senior Russian official on Thursday warned the Trump administration against military intervention in Venezuela, saying it would create a “catastrophic scenario” in the region.
“We warn against this,” Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, said in an interview with International Affairs magazine, a Russian media outlet. “We believe that this would be a catastrophic scenario that would shake the foundations of the development model we see in the Latin American region.”
On Wednesday, President Donald Trump recognized Juan Guaido, head of Venezuela’s opposition-led National Assembly, as the country’s interim president Wednesday – saying Nicolas Maduro is not the country’s legitimate leader.
The Trump administration has said it will use “all options” to pressure Maduro to relinquish power. But their comments have emphasized economic sanctions, not military force.
Maduro was sworn in on Jan. 11 to a second term amid allegations of electoral fraud. With the country in upheaval, Guaido declared himself interim president on Wednesday, saying he was “formally assuming the responsibility of the national executive.”
Thousands of Venezuelans have staged anti-Maduro protests, calling on the leader to step down as the country reels from spiraling inflation, a shortage of basic goods and a migration crisis. The Associated Press reported that at least seven protesters have been killed in the escalating confrontation with Maduro’s regime.
“The people of Venezuela have courageously spoken out against Maduro and his regime and demanded freedom and the rule of law,” Trump said on Wednesday in recognizing Guaido as the country’s legitimate leader.
Maduro responded by cutting diplomatic ties with the United States and giving American diplomats stationed in the country 72 hours to leave. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said U.S. embassy staff would remain in Venezuela at the invitation of Guaido.
“The United States does not consider former president Nicolas Maduro to have the legal authority to break diplomatic relations with the United States or to declare our diplomats persona non grata,” Pompeo said in a statement Wednesday night.
Canada has also declared its support for Guaido as Venezuela’s leader.
But Russia has staunchly backed Maduro’s government, politically and militarily. The Kremlin dispatched two Russian bombers to Venezuela last month, a provocative move that raised red flags in Washington.
Contributing: Doug Stanglin