U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo called on Russia to “cease its unconstructive behavior” by supporting Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro during a phone call with his Russian counterpart, the State Department said on Monday.
Spokesman Robert Palladino said Pompeo had spoken to Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov about Venezuela on Monday.
“The secretary told Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov that the United States and regional countries will not stand idly by as Russia exacerbates tensions in Venezuela,” Palladino said in a statement.
The call appears to have been prompted by reports of the arrival on Sunday in the Venezuelan capital, Caracas, of two Russian air force planes carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.
The State Department statement did not refer to the arrival of the Russian passenger jet and a military cargo plane, although it condemned Russian military support for the “illegitimate regime of Nicolas Maduro.”
Russia has warned the United States and neighbors against a military intervention in Venezuela.
During the call with Lavrov, Pompeo urged Moscow to join the United States and regional countries in backing opposition leader Juan Guaido.
The Trump administration has imposed crippling sanctions on the OPEC nation’s oil industry. On Friday it sanctioned its development bank, Bandes, in efforts to choke off financial flows to Maduro’s government and called on Venezuelan military leaders to abandon him.
Maduro has denounced the sanctions as U.S. intervention and has won diplomatic backing from Russia, China and Cuba.
Reporting by Lesley Wroughton; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Susan Thomas