Russia’s Foreign Minister warned the US against trying to impose democracy on Venezuela as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the time had come for President Nicolas Maduro to go.
At a joint press conference with Mr Pompeo in Sochi, southern Russia, Sergey Lavrov said the US was wrong to support Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaido.
Russia has interests in oil projects in Venezuela and has propped up Mr Maduro’s regime with loans.
“Democracy is not put in place by force,” Mr Lavrov said.
“The threats which we hear to Maduro’s government now from official representatives of the US administration and from Mr Guaido, who is constantly reminding of his right to invite military intervention from outside — these have nothing in common with democracy.”
Mr Pompeo urged Russia to abandon the regime. He said the US “and more than 50 other nations agree that the time has come for Nicolas Maduro to go. He has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people”.
US President Donald Trump said in February US military intervention in Venezuela was an option but no deadlines had been set.
Last month, Mr Pompeo supported a failed attempt by Mr Guaido to foment a coup, tweeting that “Operacion Libertad is under way”.
Russia has sent military advisers to Caracas and was said to have helped to cash in Venezuelan gold to keep Mr Maduro’s government afloat.
While the two swapped rhetoric in Russia, left-wing activists who have barricaded themselves in the Venezuelan embassy in Washington to protest against US intervention vowed to stay despite the authorities issuing them with an eviction notice.
The group, dubbed the Embassy Protection Collective, has been living inside the property in the Georgetown area of Washington since last month, after it was given access and permission to stay by diplomats from Mr Maduro’s regime who left their postings in March.
The pro-Maduro activists have refused an order to leave, issued after Mr Guaido appointed a new US ambassador, Carlos Vecchio, who is due to take over the embassy.
Clashes between pro-Maduro activists inside the embassy and Guaido supporters demonstrating outside it have taken place periodically since the collective’s occupation began last month.
Last week, the US authorities cut off water and electricity in an effort to force the protesters out. Police arrived on Monday to escort them off the premises, but a handful of activists vowed to stay in the embassy.
“Carlos Vecchio … and Juan Guaido are not legitimate leaders,” the group said.
“The UN does not recognise their fake government.”
According to the occupying activists, Mr Guaido, 35, is not a democratically elected leader but a US-backed right-winger.
“The US is orchestrating a coup likely to lead to bloodshed and even civil war,” they claimed.
Their slogan, “Hands Off Venezuela”, is borrowed from a proMarxist group of the same name based in Britain, and their message is backed by well-known figures on the American Left, including Noam Chomsky, the linguist and political activist, and Ilhan Omar, a Democratic congresswoman.
The slogan has been used by Mr Maduro, 56, whose supporters claim they are resisting US imperialism.
At the peak of the embassy occupation, 50 activists were living inside but the number has dwindled to four. It is unclear when they will be thrown out.
Margaret Flowers, one of the remaining protesters, said: “Every day we stay here is a victory.”
Late yesterday, the Mexican government said its embassy in Venezuela had taken in opposition MP Franco Manuel Casella to provide him “protection and safety.” But even in making the move, the Mexican government reiterated its position of noninterference in the conflict.
Unlike other large Latin American countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Colombia, Mexico still recognises the Maduro government.
‘Democracy is not put in place by force’ SERGEY LAVROV RUSSIAN FOREIGN MINISTER