(Eurasianet) A leading American scholar on U.S.-Russian relations is voicing alarm over reports that paramilitaries from a Russian military contractor have filtered into Venezuela, the Latin American nation where the embattled, Moscow-supported authoritarian government under Nicolas Maduro is struggling to contain popular protests.
Up to 1,000 mercenaries from the Wagner Group – a private army formed in 2014 that has operated in recent years in eastern Ukraine and Syria – may be in Venezuela, said Kimberly Marten, an expert on U.S.-Russia relations at Columbia University’s Harriman Institute. Reports of the deployment are difficult to confirm, in part because the band of irregulars operates in a legal vacuum and is structured in a way as to afford the Russian government “plausible deniability,” both U.S. and Russian experts acknowledge. Officials in Moscow have been dismissive of the reports. [...]
Marten said the Venezuelan crisis is unfolding during a “dangerous” period in U.S.-Russian relations, a time when the arms control architecture put in place during the late stages of the Cold War appears to be unraveling. In recent days, both countries announced that they would no longer adhere to the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty, signed in 1987. [...]
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