WASHINGTON -- The Organization of American States (OAS) has expressed the “greatest concern” about the arrival of nuclear-capable Russian aircraft in Venezuela.
In a statement released on December 12, the OAS General Secretariat said it “takes note with the greatest concern of the news coming from Venezuela about the possibility that aircraft capable of using nuclear weapons from Russia are in its territory.”
It said the presence of the foreign military mission violates the Venezuelan Constitution “because it has not been authorized by the National Assembly, as required [by the constitution].”
“Therefore, we consider such an act harmful to Venezuelan sovereignty,” added the OAS, which consists of all 35 independent nations of the Americas, including the United States.
Russia's Defense Ministry on December 10 sent two nuclear-capable strategic bombers to Venezuela, in an unusual display of Russian military force in South America, raising tensions with the United States.
The ministry did not say if they were carrying weapons.
The bombers' arrival came just days after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro visited Moscow, seeking Kremlin support for his country, whose economy is in shambles and deeply in debt to Russia.
Venezuela has purchased millions of dollars in military equipment from Russia in recent years.
The deployment of the aircraft drew a particularly pointed response from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, in a posting to Twitter.
"The Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is: two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom while their people suffer," Pompeo wrote.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters on December 11 that Pompeo's comments were "undiplomatic" and "completely inappropriate."
On December 12, the White House said it had been assured by the Kremlin that the planes would leave Venezuela on December 14.
“We have spoken with representatives of Russia and have been informed that their military aircraft, which landed in Venezuela, will be leaving on [December 14] and going back to Russia,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders told Reuters.
Oil-rich Venezuela has been racked by economic and political crises since 2010 under leftist leader Hugo Chavez and has continued into Maduro's presidency.
Millions have fled the country, driven by violence, hyperinflation, and major shortages of food.
With reporting by AFP, Reuters, and AP