Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: reports

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An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
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An airplane with the Russian flag is seen at Simon Bolivar International Airport in Caracas, Venezuela March 24, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 25 March 2019
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Russian air force planes land in Venezuela carrying troops: reports

  • Russia backs Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has rejected demands from the United States and dozens of other countries that he resign

CARACAS: Two Russian air force planes landed at Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to media reports, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.
A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.
That comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.
Reporter Javier Mayorca wrote on Twitter on Saturday that the first plane carried Vasily Tonkoshkurov, chief of staff of the ground forces, adding the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tons of material.
An Ilyushin IL-62 passenger jet and an Antonov AN-124 military cargo plane left for Caracas on Friday from Russian military airport Chkalovsky, stopping along the way in Syria, according to flight-tracking website Flightradar24.
The cargo plane left Caracas on Sunday afternoon, according to Adsbexchange, another flight-tracking site.
The flights carried officials who arrived to “exchange consultations,” wrote Russian government-owned news agency Sputnik, which quoted an unnamed source at the Russian embassy.
“Russia has various contracts that are in the process of being fulfilled, contracts of a technical military character,” Sputnik quoted the source as saying.
A Reuters witness saw what appeared to be the passenger jet at the Maiquetia airport on Sunday.
Venezuela’s Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
Russia’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.
The Trump administration has levied crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry in efforts to push Maduro from power and has called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him. Maduro has denounced the sanctions as US interventionism and has won diplomatic backing from Russia and China.
In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro’s socialist government that infuriated Washington.
Maduro on Wednesday said Russia would send medicine “next week” to Venezuela, without describing how it would arrive, adding that Moscow in February had sent some 300 tons of humanitarian aid.
Venezuela in February had blocked a convoy carrying humanitarian aid for the crisis-stricken country that was coordinated with the team of opposition leader Juan Guaido, including supplies provided by the United States, from entering via the border with Colombia.


'No collusion, no obstruction' Trump declares victory as Mueller report published

Updated 36 min 54 sec ago
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'No collusion, no obstruction' Trump declares victory as Mueller report published

  • Justice Department released the full — though redacted — report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russian medaling in US election
  • Attorney General Bill Barr said in a summary of the report that there was no collusion between Trump and Russians

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump, backed by his attorney general, declared himself fully vindicated Thursday in the investigation into Russian election meddling and alleged collusion with his campaign — before the long-awaited full probe report was made public.
“Game Over,” Trump tweeted, using a “Game of Thrones” style montage that pictured him standing in dramatic fog.


Just about an hour later, the Justice Department released the full — though redacted — report from Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which nevertheless raised questions about Trump’s actions, saying investigators were “unable” to clear him of obstruction.
Weeks ago, Attorney General Bill Barr said in a summary of the report that there was no collusion between Trump and Russians seeking to influence the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
In a nationally broadcast news conference held right before the report’s release, Barr repeatedly drove that point home.
“We now know that the Russian operatives who perpetrated these schemes did not have the cooperation of President Trump or the Trump campaign,” Barr told reporters, in a statement that effectively sought to spin the report before it was released.
“The special counsel found no collusion by any Americans,” Barr said.
“That is the bottom line.”
The extreme secrecy surrounding Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation ended abruptly at about 11a.m. in Washington when the 400-odd pages of the report were made public to Congress, the media and the public.
The report’s publication marks a new peak in a political storm raging over Washington throughout the first half of Trump’s first term in office.
While leftist opponents long hoped that Mueller would either charge Trump with crimes or provide evidence for impeachment, the outcome so far has favored the divisive, right-wing Republican president.
“NO COLLUSION. NO OBSTRUCTION,” a triumphant Trump wrote in his “Game of Thrones” pastiche tweet.
Later, he said at the start of a speech: “I’m having a good day.”
Barr emphatically sought to clear Trump of allegations that his actions — including his public attacks on Mueller and firing of then FBI chief James Comey — were not legally actionable.
The Trump-appointed attorney general had already asserted this in his summary of Mueller’s report a month ago, despite noting that Mueller himself had been unable to rule clearly on the issue.
At his news conference, Barr said he was standing by his own ruling, noting that Trump had no intention to obstruct and had merely been “frustrated and angered.”
“The White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims,” he said.
“And at the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation.”
But the report said: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state.
“Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Publication of the report — minus parts blacked out for legal or security reasons — will in theory give everyone a chance to get the full picture on a scandal that has been tangled in conspiracy theories.
But given the volcanic political temperature in Washington and the left-right chasm through the rest of the country ahead of Trump’s 2020 re-election bid, the debate over what really happened is likely to rage on.
At a minimum, the details — based on exhaustive interviews by Mueller’s prosecutors with Trump insiders — could paint an unflattering picture of the president and his links to Russia, including a previously undeclared real estate project in Moscow.
The deeper analysis of whether he committed obstruction of justice could also provide headaches for the White House.
Trump himself is supremely confident that his opponents have failed in what he claims was high-level “treason” to destroy his presidency.
“The Greatest Political Hoax of all time! Crimes were committed by Crooked, Dirty Cops and DNC/The Democrats,” the president said before Barr took the podium, reprising many of his favorite slogans about his opponents.
Claiming that Barr has been working to hamper and whitewash the Russia report, Democrats will push for still more details and testimony in the near future — including from Mueller himself.
“It is clear Congress and the American people must hear from Special Counsel Robert Mueller in person to better understand his findings,” House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler tweeted.
Nadler set a deadline of May 23 for Mueller to come to Capitol Hill.