TWO Russian military planes and 100 troops have landed in Venezuela amid fears Vladimir Putin will use force to prop up dictator Nicolas Maduro.
A senior Russian general was also on board the jets sent to crisis-hit Caracas, where the president has ordered a brutal crackdown on protests as he clings to power.
A giant An-124 cargo plane and an Il-62M passenger jet of the Russian Air Force were spotted after they landed at Maiquetia airport.
Reports said 100 Russian soldiers led by General Vasily Tonkoshkurov, head of Russia’s ground forces, disembarked along with about 35 tons of equipment.
The two aircraft left the Russian military airport Chkalovsky on Friday and stopped off in Syria before flying to South America, according to flight tracking data.
The cargo plane left Venezuela on Sunday but the passenger jet could still be seen on the tarmac last night.
SHOW OF FORCE
The Kremlin refused to comment officially on the deployment and its purpose.
But a source told the government-owned Sputnik agency: “Russia has various contracts that are in the process of being fulfilled, contracts of a technical military character.”
An official in Maduro’s government said Russian military personnel are visiting “to discuss equipment maintenance, training and strategy” as part of “ongoing military cooperation”.
It comes after Putin – who used his military might to prop up Syrian butcher Bashar al-Assad – sent two Tu-160 strategic nuclear bombers to Caracas in a show of force in December.
The infuriated the US which has imposed sanctions on the Maduro regime and recognised opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president.
Venezuela has been crippled by months of unrest as protesters hit the streets claiming Maduro’s re-election last year was rigged.
Three million refugees have fled the chaos of 800,000 per cent inflation, shortages of food and medicine, and pollution so bad water taps run black with oil.
Earlier this month a six-day blackout left the entire nation without power, forcing desperate residents to scoop water from sewers as Caracas was hit by fires, hospital deaths and looting.
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Maduro, successor to Communist tyrant Hugo Chavez, blamed it on an “imperialist” electromagnetic attack from the US.
Last night he called Guaido “the devil’s puppet” and claimed an opposition bid to assassinate him had been foiled.
Donald Trump has said “all options are on the table” amid claims he was planning to send 5,000 troops.
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