Venezuela’s Military Backs Maduro, as Russia Warns U.S. Not to Intervene

CARACAS, Venezuela — The embattled authorities of Venezuela struck again in opposition to its opponents on Thursday, profitable robust assist from the nation’s armed forces and the stable backing of Russia, which warned the United States not to intervene.

The occasions put Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, on the middle of a Cold War-style showdown between Russia, an ally that has shored up his authorities with billions of , and the United States, which has denounced him as a corrupt autocrat with no legitimacy.

The Trump administration pressed its case on Thursday, with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling on all nations within the hemisphere to reject Mr. Maduro and “align themselves with democracy,” establishing a check of wills with the Kremlin.

Only a day earlier than, Mr. Maduro’s political nemesis, the opposition chief Juan Guaidó, appeared to have the momentum. During nationwide protests in opposition to the federal government, he proclaimed himself the nation’s rightful president, incomes endorsements from President Trump and several other governments within the area.

But on Thursday, it was Mr. Maduro’s flip to put Mr. Guaidó on protection. In a televised information convention, the chief of Venezuela’s armed forces declared loyalty to Mr. Maduro and mentioned the opposition’s effort to substitute him amounted to an tried coup.

Taken together, the events escalated the confusion and conflict over who is the rightful president of Venezuela, the oil-rich and formerly prosperous country upended by political repression and severe economic hardship under Mr. Maduro.

Mr. Maduro was sworn in for his second term this month after an election widely viewed as rigged. Mr. Guaidó argues that, as the president of the National Assembly, an opposition-controlled legislative body, he has the constitutional authority to assume power because Mr. Maduro had taken office illegally.

After Mr. Trump recognized Mr. Guaidó on Wednesday, an infuriated Mr. Maduro cut ties with the United States and ordered all its diplomats to leave within 72 hours. Mr. Pompeo said the United States would not comply.

But a senior American official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the embassy in Caracas, the capital, was evacuating all family members and several diplomats, keeping a core team of officers in place. How long they might stay remained unclear, but the State Department said late Thursday it had “no plans to close the embassy.”

Mr. Maduro, addressing Supreme Court judges on Thursday afternoon, urged the United States to heed his call to withdraw all the diplomats by this weekend.

“If there is any sense and rationality, I say to the State Department: You must follow the order,” Mr. Maduro said.

He added that Venezuela’s diplomatic missions in the United States, which include an embassy in Washington and consulates in Florida and Texas, would be shut down by Saturday.

But so far, senior military commanders appear to be siding with Mr. Maduro, even as they express alarm over the possible consequences of rival claims to power.

“We’re here to avoid a clash between Venezuelans,” Vladimir Padrino López, the defense minister, said in a televised address, flanked by high-ranking officers. “It’s not a civil war, a war among brothers, that will resolve Venezuelans’ problems.”

Mr. Padrino called Mr. Guaidó’s claim to power “laughable” and described him as a pawn of right-wing factions subservient to the United States.

“It makes you want to laugh,” he said. “But I must alert the people of the danger this represents.”

Mr. Guaidó remained out of sight at an undisclosed location on Thursday, making few pronouncements. His decision to keep a low profile was likely a result of widespread speculation in Caracas that the government could move in to detain him soon.

Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, Paraguay, Peru, Ecuador, Guatemala and the Organization of American States have also recognized Mr. Guaidó as the country’s leader. Mexico and others in the region have not, including Cuba and Bolivia, longtime allies of Mr. Maduro.

The State Department has said it will not heed the order to leave the country because Mr. Guaidó has invited the United States to stay.

Ms. San Miguel said military leaders may ultimately flip. That, she added, would possibly happen if the rank and file were signaling clearly that they did not want to crack down on protesters.

“That would be the sign that Maduro has to leave,” she said.

Before the defense minister spoke on Thursday, Russia accused the United States of promoting regime change in Venezuela, warning of the “catastrophic consequences” of destabilizing the country.

Moscow has been a close ally of Venezuela for more than a decade, helping the country’s crumbling economy with billions of dollars in loans as well as military support.

“Any external intervention is very dangerous,” Dmitri S. Peskov, Mr. Putin’s spokesman, told reporters in Moscow. “We consider the attempt to usurp the top power in Venezuela as going against the foundations and principles of the international law.”

Sergey V. Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said the United States was being hypocritical in accusing Russia of meddling in American elections while blatantly interfering in Venezuela’s internal affairs. He also said that hints of armed intervention were particularly alarming.

“That the United States and some other countries have recognized the self-proclaimed president shows that they played a direct role in the crisis in Venezuela,” Mr. Lavrov told a news conference in Algiers, where he was visiting.

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