The U.S. will treat foreign military deployments to Venezuela as a "direct threat" to regional stability and peace, President Donald Trump's national security advisor warned Friday.
John Bolton issued a rare statement specifically pointing to Russia's recent deployment of troops and military equipment to the Latin American nation, saying President Nicolas Maduro will only use it "to further repress the people of Venezuela."
"We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations," Bolton said.
"We will continue to defend and protect the interests of the United States, and those of our partners in the Western Hemisphere, which are rooted in a shared respect for liberty, security, and the rule of law," he added.
Trump earlier this week issued a stark warning to Russia, telling Moscow to withdraw its forces from Venezuela after Russia sent two military aircraft to Caracas over the weekend, and issued a veiled threat of military intervention to break the country's political deadlock.
Mystery has surrounded the aircrafts' contents, including the number of troops aboard, as well as their cargo.
Trump's special envoy for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, declined to say what kind of equipment Washington believes was sent, but said Russian forces are likely working on repairing an S-300 surface-to-air missile system.
The system, Abrams said, was damaged during Venezuela's repeated power outages.
Venezuela has been in the throes of humanitarian and economic crises amid a political deadlock between opposition leader Juan Guaido, who declared himself the country's interim president in January.
Dozens of nations, including the U.S., Canada and most Latin American states, have recognized Guaido as the country's leader as Washington has ramped up diplomatic and economic pressure on Caracas, including sanctioning its state-run oil company.
Maduro, who is strongly supported by Russia and Cuba, has refused to cede power, instead insisting he is the target of a U.S.-orchestrated coup.
The political stalemate comes as Venezuela grapples with a worsening economic crisis that has led to acute shortages of goods and which has repeatedly resulted in widespread power outages.
Its economy has been in precipitous decline following a global downturn in the price of crude oil, the country's main export.
By Michael Hernandez in Washington