Brazil says Russian troops should leave Venezuela if propping up Maduro

BRASILIA (Reuters) - The Russian troops sent to Venezuela should leave if their purpose is to maintain the country’s leftist government in power, Brazilian Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo said on Thursday.

FILE PHOTO: Brazil's Foreign Minister Ernesto Araujo attends a news conference at Itamaraty Palace in Brasilia, Brazil January 2, 2019. REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes/File photo

In an interview with Reuters, Araujo said he hoped Russia would recognize that propping up President Nicolas Maduro would only deepen the collapse of Venezuela’s economy and society, and that the only way out of the crisis was to hold elections under an interim government led by opposition leader Juan Guaido.

“If their idea is to keep Maduro in power for longer that means more people starving and fleeing the country, more human tragedy in Venezuela,” the minister said.

“Anything that contributes to the continuation of the suffering of the Venezuelan people should be removed,” he said in a telephone interview.

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday called on Russia to pull its troops from Venezuela and said that “all options” were open to make that happen.

Brazil’s right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro, whose government has joined a U.S.-led operation to get humanitarian aid into Venezuela, said the Brazilian armed forces have no intention of intervening militarily in the neighboring country.

The arrival of two Russian air force planes outside Caracas on Saturday believed to be carrying nearly 100 Russian special forces and cybersecurity personnel has escalated the political crisis in Venezuela. Russia said on Thursday they were “specialists” sent to Venezuela under a military cooperation agreement and were staying put.

Araujo said the presence of Russian soldiers in Venezuela was a sign of the weakness of Maduro. “If he needs to bring troops from abroad, it is clear that his own armed forces are not totally with him and not able to keep repressing the Venezuelan people,” he said.

Brazil would like to discuss the Venezuelan crisis bilaterally with Russia and China, its partners in the BRICS group of largest emerging markets economies, to convince them that a diplomatic transition in the oil-producing nation might be in their best interest too, he said.

With the Lima Group of countries recognizing Guaido as the legitimate leader of Venezuela, Brazil is now focusing on getting his representatives recognized in international organizations instead of Maduro’s, Araujo said, as happened recently at the Inter-American Development Bank.

Despite having differing views of the world, Araujo said the Brazilian government is looking to cooperate on trade and many other issues with Russia and China, whose presidents will attend a BRICS summit in Brazil in November.

A top priority for the Bolsonaro government is to expand agricultural exports worldwide, and particularly to China, Brazil’s biggest customer, he said. Araujo plans to visit China with Agriculture Minister Tereza Cristina Dias in May.

Reporting by Anthony Boadle, Editing by Rosalba O’Brien and Lisa Shumaker