MOSCOW - The Kremlin on Thursday rejected U.S. calls for Moscow to withdraw its military specialists from Venezuela, saying they are there to honor obligations under previous arms contracts.
Asked to comment on Washington's demand for Moscow to pull out its personnel and halt other assistance to embattled President Nicolas Maduro, Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov snapped that “our bilateral relations isn't something that should concern third countries.”
“The United States is present in many parts of the world and no one is telling it where it should or shouldn't be,'' he told reporters. “We anticipate respect for our right to develop relations with any country that are in our mutual interests.”
The U.S. and several dozen other nations have recognized Venezuela's opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, while Russia and China have staunchly backed Maduro.
“Russia has developed traditional and mutually-beneficial cooperation with Venezuela, including arms contracts,'' Peskov said. “Our specialists who have arrived in Venezuela in recent days are there as part of Russia's obligations to fulfill those contracts.”
Earlier in the day, Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said Russia had sent military help to Venezuela under a bilateral agreement — but neither Zakharova nor Peskov provided any numbers or details on their mission.
Zahkarova questioned the grounds for U.S. Vice President Mike Pence's demands Wednesday for their withdrawal.
Zakharova said Pence's call was a “completely arrogant attempt to dictate to a sovereign state.”