Russian military planes landed in crisis-hit Venezuela last month but triggered stinging criticism from the US, which accused Moscow of destabilising the situation in the Latin American country. Russia immediately hit back, and insisted its aircraft arrived under a bilateral agreement with Caracas. But Malta has become the first country to stand up to Russia, refusing access on April 4, as the political crisis engulfing Venezuela continues to deteriorate.
The stance has been praised by the US Department of State, which has urged countries throughout the world to unite and follow suit in rejecting the “brutal former regime” of current President and “dictator” Nicolas Maduro.
Spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus wrote on Twitter: “We applaud the Government of #Malta for refusing to allow Russian planes to use its airspace to supply the brutal former regime in #Venezuela.
“We call on all countries to follow Malta’s example to stop the Kremlin’s support for the dictator Maduro.”
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova had earlier said Malta prevented two Russian planes carrying cargo and personnel to Venezuela from using its airspace.
She claimed Malta didn’t provide any reason for its decision and warned Moscow will take this into consideration in its bilateral relations with the island nation.
The Foreign Ministry spokeswoman said during a briefing on Thursday: “The decision of the Maltese authorities is knocked out of common practice and carries a certain unfriendly subtext.
“This will certainly be taken into account by the Russian side in the framework of bilateral relations with Valetta.”
US President Donald Trump has continued his war of words with the Kremlin, warning Russia has to “get out” of Venezuela.
He added “all options” are open to force Russia to end its assistance to Maduro, heightening the prospect the US could be set to impose huge new sanctions on Moscow.
Russia, which has also supplied fighter jets, tanks and air defence systems to Venezuela, has rejected the criticism from the US for its military cooperation with Caracas.
Moscow continues to insist it is not interfering in the Latin American country’s internal affairs and is not posing a threat to regional stability.
In an interview with Foreign Policy magazine, US Southern Command Admiral Craig Faller said the military is “looking at a range” of options.
He added the military “will be ready” for whatever decision the President makes.
But during her same briefing on Thursday, Ms Zakharova criticised those comments, and warned Washington’s use of military force against Caracas may soon become a reality.
She said: “The United States has been making statements about a military scenario against Venezuela more frequently.
“His tough and aggressive tone once again confirms our fears that the US military operation in Venezuela is not just an abstraction but a possible reality.”