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Trump Administration Calls On Russia To Stop Supporting Venezuela's Nicolás Maduro


The Trump administration is calling on Russia to stop supporting Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro and to work for a better future for that country. Russia is having none of it, blasting the U.S. for meddling in Venezuela and violating international law. NPR's Michele Kelemen has more.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: A day after he accused Russia of talking President Nicolas Maduro out of leaving Venezuela, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called his Russian counterpart to complain. His spokesperson says he stressed that the intervention by Russia and Cuba is destabilizing for Venezuela and for U.S.-Russian relations. The Trump administration argues it's only a matter of time before Maduro falls. National security adviser John Bolton has named three top figures who he says were ready to push Maduro out.


JOHN BOLTON: It's like scorpions in a bottle. If you're Nicolas Maduro, how can you trust Minister of Defense Padrino knowing he was on the verge of negotiating an agreement with the opposition? Similarly, the chief judge of the Supreme Court, the commander of the presidential guard and many others.

KELEMEN: Russia accuses the U.S. of backing a coup attempt in Venezuela and waging an information war. Russian foreign minister Sergey Lavrov's office says he told Pompeo in that phone call that Washington's interference is a gross violation of international law. And he warned that further aggressive steps will be fraught with serious consequences. The U.S. and Russia have been at odds over the crisis in Venezuela since the start. The U.S. recognizes National Assembly leader Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela.

Today, U.S. Southcom commander Craig Faller called on Venezuelan military officers to switch allegiances and soon.


CRAIG FALLER: The brutal dictatorship of Maduro has led to this manmade crisis. Cuba and Russia have invaded your country and disgraced your sovereignty. You have a chance to do the right thing and alleviate the suffering of your people and your families, those you've sworn an oath to protect.

KELEMEN: Faller was speaking at a House Armed Services Committee hearing, where lawmakers questioned whether the U.S. military is planning to get involved in Maduro's ouster. Faller says the U.S. Southern Command has been mostly supporting aid and evacuation efforts and working with regional partners.


FALLER: Our leadership's been clear. It has to be - should be - primarily a democratic transition. We're in total support of the diplomacy. And we stand ready to support that effort.

KELEMEN: The acting assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, Kathryn Wheelbarger, had this to say when asked whether there are any orders to move troops or prepare for a military conflict.


KATHRYN WHEELBARGER: We, of course, always review available options and plan for contingencies. But in this case, we have not been given the sort of orders that you're discussing, no.

KELEMEN: U.S. officials say, for now, they're keeping a close watch on what they say is a fluid situation in Venezuela and keeping watch on the support Russia and others continue to offer Maduro. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen
Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.