Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and Russian President Vladimir Putin at a Dec. 5, 2018, meeting. Photo: Valery Sharifulin/TASS via Getty Images

Two Russian planes landed in Venezuela on Saturday, reportedly carrying 35 tons of military supplies and 100 Russian troops. The Venezuelan and Russian governments have claimed that the materiel and troops are there under a contract to service Russian military equipment, but the timing and the scale belie those claims.

Why it matters: More than two months after the United States and 50 other countries recognized National Assembly leader Juan Guaidó as president of the country, Russia’s latest power play is a defiant move to shape events in what has long been considered a U.S. sphere of influence.

Background: Vladimir Putin's government has long been an ally of the Venezuelan government, first under President Hugo Chávez and now under Nicolás Maduro.

  • Russia has lent the struggling economy $3.15 billion under generous terms, and Russian energy company Rosneft has heavily invested in the country’s oil exploration and production.

Meanwhile, the U.S. has imposed unilateral sanctions, including a freeze on payment for oil imports to the Venezuelan government, a freeze on the international bank accounts of government officials, and penalties like visa cancellations and bank account freezes on hundreds of Maduro’s associates and friends.

  • As a result, an international effort to reverse Venezuela’s long slide into autocracy and humanitarian crisis became seen as an American campaign. The U.S. staked its maneuvers on a bet that the military high command would turn on Maduro and back Guaidó as interim president until the country could hold free and fair elections.

The bottom line: Russian troops are more than a hedge against a U.S. invasion; they are a signal to prevent the defections from the Venezuelan military that the U.S. and others had been banking on. Now, perhaps in part as reprisal for U.S. support of Ukraine's democratic government against Russian intervention, Putin may try to play a role in any solution to the Venezuelan standoff.

Christopher Sabatini is an adjunct professor at Columbia University's School of International and Public Affairs, executive director of Global Americans and a non-resident fellow at Rice University's Baker Institute.

Go deeper

Updated 27 mins ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 32,844,146 — Total deaths: 994,208 — Total recoveries: 22,715,726Map.
  2. U.S.: Total confirmed cases as of 3 a.m. ET: 7,078,798 — Total deaths: 204,497 — Total recoveries: 2,750,459 — Total tests: 100,492,536Map.
  3. States: New York daily cases top 1,000 for first time since June — U.S. reports over 55,000 new coronavirus cases.
  4. Health: The long-term pain of the mental health pandemicFewer than 10% of Americans have coronavirus antibodies.
  5. Business: Millions start new businesses in time of coronavirus.
  6. Education: Summer college enrollment offers a glimpse of COVID-19's effect.

Texas city declares disaster after brain-eating amoeba found in water supply

Characteristics associated with a case of amebic meningoencephalitis due to Naegleria fowleri parasites. Photo: Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images

Texas authorities have issued a warning amid concerns that the water supply in the southeast of the state may contain the brain-eating amoeba naegleria fowleri following the death of a 6-year-old boy.

Details: The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality issued a "do not use" water alert Friday for eight cities, along with the Clemens and Wayne Scott Texas Department of Criminal Justice corrections centers and the Dow Chemical plant in Freeport. This was later lifted for all places except for Lake Jackson, which issued a disaster declaration Saturday.

Updated 9 hours ago - Politics & Policy

What they're saying: Trump nominates Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court

Judge Amy Coney Barrett in the Rose Garden of the White House on Sept. 26. Photo: Oliver Douliery/AFP via Getty Images

Democratic and Republican lawmakers along with other leading political figures reacted to President Trump's Saturday afternoon nomination of federal appeals court Judge Amy Coney Barrett to succeed Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg on the Supreme Court.

What they're saying: "President Trump could not have made a better decision," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a statement. "Judge Amy Coney Barrett is an exceptionally impressive jurist and an exceedingly well-qualified nominee to the Supreme Court of the United States."