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  • Dagny

2 May 2019 - Lunch News

Regarding Venezuela:

“If the question is is the United States prepared to consider military action if that’s what it takes to restore the democracy there in Venezuela, the president’s been consistent and unambiguous about that,” Pompeo said in response to comments by the Venezuelan ambassador to the UN, who-who claimed that the U.S. has deployed 3,000 people who are “planning for war” to the American embassy in neighboring Colombia.

“The option to use military force is available if that’s what is ultimately called for. We hope it’s not, we hope there can be a peaceful resolution and that Maduro will leave without violence,” Pompeo said.

The uprising, led by opposition leader Juan Guaidó, has so far not forced Maduro out of office, as planned. Some elements within the Venezuelan military have sided with him, however, and there are reports that Venezuelan ex-pats are indeed gathering in neighboring Colombia preparing to fight Maduro’s forces by joining Guaidó.

As for the embattled Venezuelan president, Pompeo said he and other members of his government were preparing to bail out of the capital of Caracas yesterday but Russian officials intervened.

“He had an airplane on the tarmac; he was ready to leave this morning, as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo told CNN.

“We think the situation remains incredibly fluid. We know that there were senior leaders inside the Maduro government that were prepared to leave. They told as much over the past few weeks. And we’re convinced that the Venezuelan people are going to get their democracy back.”

Contractors linked to the Wagner group, which has carried out missions in Ukraine, Africa, and Syria, reportedly travelled to Venezuela

Shabaev said that the deployment of military contractors could be as large as 400 people, other sources cited by Reuters suggested the groups were smaller. There were conflicting reports about when the mercenaries may have arrived as well.

“Russia has gained a strong ally in the Americas as Russia looks to counter the U.S. Also Venezuela has the world’s largest oil reserves, so Rosneft has acquired access to oil fields in Venezuela, and Russia supplies arms to Maduro and the military,” Marczak added.

Russia has also helped Venezuela develop a cryptocurrency to avoid U.S. sanctions. Maduro announced in February last year that Venezuela would launch an online currency called the petro, which would be backed by the value of one barrel of oil. The move mimicked Moscow’s attempt to launch its own digital currency to avoid U.S. sanctions. The petro was widely deemed a desperate and risky attempt to attract foreign currency to the cash-strapped country.

Meanwhile, other Russia-aligned countries such as China and Turkey have also thrown their weight behind Maduro. Researchers at the Atlantic Council who track disinformation online noted that some of the most prominent pro-Maduro Twitter hashtags originated out of Turkey.

The Russian military contractor group Wagner is a secretive organization headed by a Russian lieutenant named Dmitri Utkin who is a member of the Russian military intelligence the GRU. The group has been linked to the death of three Russian journalists who were producing a documentary about Wagner’s work in the Central African Republic. 

Aside from its incursions into Africa, Wagner is also present in Syria and Ukraine. Russian media claims that Wagner is coordinated by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a man who has been nicknamed “Putin’s chef.” Prigozhin allegedly ordered the Russian mercenaries to attack U.S. troops in Syria in February 2018. 

Special counsel Robert Mueller indicted Prigozhin, alleging that his St. Petersburg-based troll farm the Internet Research Agency played a major role in Russia’s efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. Both Prigozhin and Utkin are also subject to U.S. sanctions.

List of many ties between Venezuela and Iran:

Drugs, over 200 treaties, uranium, mercenaries, Code Pink, Obama...

Military Overview:

Adm. Craig Faller, head of U.S. Southern Command, told the House Armed Services Committee he believes it is only a matter of time before Guaidó, president of the country's National Assembly, takes control. Guaidó encouraged Venezuelans to take to the streets starting Tuesday, saying that the final phase of "Operation Freedom" had begun.  "[T]here is going to be a day when the legitimate government takes over, and it's going to come when we least expect it," said Faller. "And it could be right now, so we are calling it 'day now' planning."  Faller told the committee that repairing Venezuela's dilapidated economic and energy infrastructure after years of corruption and mismanagement won't be a sample task. "[T]he magnitude of the misery is going to require every element of international unity that currently exists," he said.  Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., asked Faller if military planning includes contingencies involving the aftermath of a U.S. intervention in the country. Faller said the military is preparing for anything the president has said is on the table, adding that "we are on the balls of our feet." He said he would prefer to disclose the details in a closed session of Congress.  Trump has kept military options on the table since Venezuela's political crisis began. In January, the United States and dozens of other Western nations recognized Guaidó as the country's interim president.  "The president has been crystal clear and incredibly consistent. Military action is possible. If that’s what’s required, that’s what the United States will do," U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said today in an interview on Fox Business Network.  Venezuela's political turmoil has been exacerbated by mass food shortages. The average Venezuelan has lost 20 pounds in the last year, Faller said, with 90 percent of people suffering from malnutrition.  Responsibility for the continuing crisis "squarely rests on Cuba, Russia, and to some extent China," the admiral told the committee. The Pentagon has estimated as many as 20,000 Cuban forces are supporting the Maduro regime. An unknown number of Russian military personnel and mercenaries are also believed to be in Venezuela, with 100 special advisers flying in recently.  "It's significant, and it's contributing to the devastation," said Faller.  Trump threatened an embargo against Cuba yesterday. "If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete ... embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba," the president said in a pair of tweets. Maduro, Hezbollah, Friends, Family, and Criminal Activity: He is one of the most powerful leaders of the Venezuelan government, a hard-liner who has put down protests, confronted rebels and been a constant presence at the side of Nicolás Maduro, the country’s authoritarian president.

But for years, Tareck El Aissami, one of Mr. Maduro’s closest confidants, has also been the target of wide-ranging investigations by his own country’s intelligence agency into his ties to the criminal underworld. According to a secret dossier compiled by Venezuelan agents, Mr. El Aissami and his family have helped sneak Hezbollah militants into the country, gone into business with a drug lord and shielded 140 tons of chemicals believed to be used for cocaine production — helping make him a rich man as his country has spiraled into disarray. Mr. El Aissami, a former vice president who is now Mr. Maduro’s industry minister, has long been in the cross hairs of American investigators. He was indicted in March in a Manhattan federal court and sanctioned two years ago by the Treasury Department, accused of working with drug lords. The dossier, provided to The New York Times by a former top Venezuelan intelligence official and confirmed independently by a second one, recounts testimony from informants accusing Mr. El Aissami and his father of recruiting Hezbollah members to help expand spying and drug trafficking networks in the region. Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States, and American officials say the group has long had a presence in South America, where it has helped launder drug money. In 2008, the Treasury Department sanctioned a different Venezuelan diplomat, accusing him of raising money for Hezbollah and helping its members travel to the country. But Mr. El Aissami and his father, Carlos Zaidan El Aissami, a Syrian immigrant who had worked with Hezbollah on return visits to his country, also pushed to bring Hezbollah into Venezuela, according to the dossier. Informants told intelligence agents that Mr. El Aissami’s father was involved in a plan to train Hezbollah members in Venezuela, “with the aim of expanding intelligence networks throughout Latin America and at the same time working in drug trafficking,” the documents say. Mr. El Aissami helped the plan along, the dossier adds, by using his authority over residency permits to issue official documents to Hezbollah militants, enabling them to stay in the country. on March 8, the United States unsealed its indictment against Mr. El Aissami, making him the second member of Mr. Maduro’s cabinet known to be indicted on drug trafficking charges. Néstor Reverol, the nation’s current interior minister, has also been indicted. And in 2017, two nephews of Mr. Maduro’s wife, Cilia Flores, were sentenced to 18 years in an American prison after trying to traffic 800 kilograms of cocaine. RUSSIA has secretly installed nuclear missiles in Venezuela a US politician has sensationally claimed in a chilling echo of the Cuban Missile Crisis. Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart said he believes Vladimir Putin's hidden nukes are now a direct threat to the "national security" of the United States. Putin has already handed Venezuela more than £13bn in credit underwritten by its huge oil reserves - reportedly the largest in the world. Maduro's military is also said to owe the Kremlin £8bn for tanks, missile defence systems and fighter jets it has purchased in recent years. Any repayments will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power  - with all future army orders likely going straight to the Pentagon. Venezuela's military bases, airfields and ports are also seem as an ideal staging-post for Russian forces in the region.

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