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Russia raises alarm over U.S. support of Venezuela's opposition

Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov speaks during the annual news conference in Moscow, Russia January 16, 2019. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov

MOSCOW (Reuters) - Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said on Wednesday Moscow was alarmed by U.S. talk of some kind of possible U.S. military option for Venezuela and accused Washington of leaning on the opposition there to block talks with the government.

Lavrov, addressing his annual news conference, said the U.S. approach to Venezuela showed U.S. efforts to try to undermine governments around the world it didn’t like were continuing.

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has indicated its support for an opposition leader, ratcheting up pressure on Venezuela’s socialist President Nicolas Maduro as he embarks on a disputed second term.

In 2017, Trump said he didn’t rule out a “military option” to put an end to what he regards as economic chaos in Venezuela, a close Russian ally, in comments that brought widespread condemnation.

The U.S. has also criticized Moscow for launching military flights to Venezuela, rebukes that the Kremlin has rejected.

Venezuela’s opposition-run Congress this week declared Maduro a “usurper” as Washington weighed recognising the leader of the Congress, Juan Guaido, as the country’s legitimate president, two people familiar with the matter said.

Pompeo on Wednesday said the United States, which has already imposed sanctions on Maduro and a number of his top allies, backed the opposition’s action.

“We congratulate, recognise & support the courage of #Venezuela’s National Assembly to formally declare #Maduro a ‘usurper’ of democracy & to transfer executive responsibilities to the National Assembly,” Pompeo wrote on Twitter.

Over the weekend, Pompeo called Maduro’s government illegitimate and said the United States would work with like-minded countries in Latin America to restore democracy in Venezuela.

Reporting by Vladimir Soldatkin and Christian Lowe; Additional reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Andrew Osborn and Franklin Paul