Private military contractors with connections to the Russian government flew reportedly flew to Venezuela this week to protect President Nicolas Maduro in the face of opposition protests backed by the United States. According to Reuters, the leader of a local Cossack paramilitary group with ties to Russian contractors said that about 400 military contractors were in Venezuela; other sources said “small groups” were there to protect Maduro. Flight-tracking data reviewed by Reuters also indicated that a “number” Russian government aircraft landed in Venezuela over the past few weeks, although there is no evidence the flights are linked to the military contractors.
The contractors are reportedly associated with the Wagner Group, who have previously done work for Russia in Syria and Ukraine. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov denied knowing about such operation, claiming the government had “no such information.” Russia reportedly backed Maduro’s socialist government with billions of dollars, and recently said they would stand by him after the U.S. publicly backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, who recently declared himself interim president.