Two Russian air force planes landed in Venezuela's main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to a local journalist, 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, according to a Haaretz report citing Reuters.
The report 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 that the second was a cargo plane carrying 35 tonnes 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.
It was not immediately evident why the planes had come to Venezuela.
Venezuela's Information Ministry did not immediately reply to a request for comment.
I think this is disembarkment. On the footage of landing An-124 these heavy trucks were empty.— Capt(N) (@Capt_Navy) March 24, 2019
Photo of the 🇷🇺#RussianAF Antonov An-124 airplane in #Caracas 🇻🇪#Venezuela today, March 23 2019 pic.twitter.com/27LRcJ8NpP
Russia's Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry did not reply to messages seeking a comment. The Kremlin spokesman also did not reply to a request for comment.
In December, two Russian strategic bomber aircraft capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed Venezuela in a show of support for Maduro's socialist government that infuriated Washington.
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.