Trump says Russia removed ‘most’ personnel from Venezuela, Kremlin denies

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Russia has told the United States that it has withdrawn most of its personnel from Venezuela, US President Donald Trump said Monday, two months after telling Moscow to “get out” of the crisis-plagued Latin American nation.

“Russia has informed us that they have removed most of their people from Venezuela,” Trump tweeted during a state visit to Britain.

The Kremlin on Tuesday denied informing the United States it was withdrawing personnel from Venezuela, as stated by US President Donald Trump.

“This is apparently an indirect reference to some sources of information in newspapers because there have been no official messages from the Russian side about this and there couldn't have been any,” President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told journalists.

He confirmed that Russian military specialists are still in Venezuela “working on servicing equipment supplied earlier.”

“This process is going according to plan. And what is meant by ‘removed their people’ we don't know,” he said.

US-Russian tensions have spiked over the months-long standoff in Venezuela, where Washington has thrown its weight behind a campaign to oust the Moscow-backed socialist president, Nicolas Maduro.

Trump called on Russia to “get out” of Venezuela in March, after Moscow -- in a significant show of solidarity for Maduro’s badly isolated government -- deployed around 100 soldiers to the country.

However, state defense contractor Rostec played down any changes, dismissing an earlier report in The Wall Street Journal saying that the overall Russian presence had been reduced from as many as 1,000 personnel to a few dozen.

The numbers cited by the Journal “were exaggerated dozens of times over,” a statement from Rostec said.

“As for technical specialists, they periodically arrive in the country for the repair and maintenance of previously supplied equipment. For example, technical maintenance was recently completed on a batch of aircraft,” Rostec said.

A Rostec spokeswoman told AFP that “around 10 people work in our Venezuela office and that’s always been this way.”

According to the Journal report, however, Rostec once had a far bigger presence in Venezuela, training troops and advising on weapons contracts. That relationship has withered as Moscow recognizes the inability of Caracas to pay.

Washington has subjected Venezuela, a once rich country whose economy is now in a state of chaos, to economic sanctions in an attempt to force Maduro from power.

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