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.


US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

Updated 19 April 2019
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US envoy ‘disappointed’ by collapse of inter-Afghan peace meeting

  • A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend
  • The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group

KABUL: The US envoy for peace in Afghanistan expressed disappointment on Friday after the collapse of a planned meeting between the Taliban and a group of Afghan politicians in Qatar that exposed some of the deep divisions hampering efforts to end the war.
A 250-strong delegation of Afghan politicians and civil society figures had been due to meet Taliban officials in Doha at the weekend. The event was abruptly canceled on Thursday amid arguments over the size and status of the group, which included some government officials attending in a personal capacity.
“I’m disappointed Qatar’s intra-Afghan initiative has been delayed,” Zalmay Khalilzad, the US special representative for Afghan reconciliation, said on Twitter. “I urge all sides to seize the moment and put things back on track by agreeing to a participant list that speaks for all Afghans.”
The collapse of the meeting before it had even started, described as a “fiasco” by one senior Western official, laid bare the tensions that have hampered moves toward opening formal peace negotiations.
Khalilzad, a veteran Afghan-born diplomat, has held a series of meetings with Taliban representatives but the insurgents have so far refused to talk to the Western-backed government in Kabul, which they dismiss as a “puppet” regime.
The Doha meeting was intended to prepare the ground for possible future talks by building familiarity among Taliban officials and representatives of the Afghan state created after the US-led campaign that toppled the Taliban government in 2001. A similar encounter was held in Moscow in February.
President Ashraf Ghani’s office blamed Qatari authorities for the cancelation, saying they had authorized a list of participants that differed from the one proposed by Kabul, “which meant disrespect for the national will of the Afghans.”
“This act is not acceptable for the people of Afghanistan,” it said in a statement on Friday.
Sultan Barakat, director of the Center for Conflict and Humanitarian Studies in Qatar, which had been facilitating the meeting, said there was no disagreement about the agenda.
“Rather, there is insufficient agreement around participation and representation to enable the conference to be a success,” he tweeted.
Preparations had already been undermined by disagreements on the government side about who should attend, as well as by suspicions among rival politicians ahead of presidential elections scheduled for September.
The Taliban derided the agreed list of 250 participants as a “wedding party.” Some senior opposition figures who had been included refused to attend.
The Taliban also objected to Ghani’s comments to a meeting of delegates that they would be representing the Afghan nation and the Afghan government, a statement that went against the insurgents’ refusal to deal with the Kabul administration.