Venezuela’s Maduro says he will withdraw embassy, consulate staff from Washington and other US cities

The United States and Venezuela were locked in a tense international standoff on Thursday (Jan 24), as the Trump administration kept its embassy staff in the country despite an official order to eject them and Russia demanded that the Americans cease “intervention” in the teetering, oil-rich nation.

Moscow and Beijing have propped up the socialist South American state for years, investing billions through loans and energy deals and setting up what is now a dramatic global power play over Venezuela’s future.

On Wednesday, Washington recognised Juan Guaido, head of the US-backed opposition, as the rightful leader of Venezuela, describing President Nicolas Maduro – a former union leader and bus driver accused of turning Venezuela into a narco-state – as a usurper.

The move prompted Maduro on Wednesday to break ties with Washington and order US diplomats out of the country by this weekend.

Arguing that Maduro had won re-election last year through fraud and is no longer Venezuela’s rightful ruler, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo rejected Maduro’s order and indicated that US personnel would not budge.

Maduro on Thursday declared he would recall all staff from Venezuela’s embassy in Washington and its seven consulates in the United States.

He reiterated his demand that all US Embassy personnel in Caracas depart by this weekend, calling Washington “infantile” for rejecting his order.

He pointedly sidestepped the consequences for remaining, but belittled US President Donald Trump.

“It’s Donald Trump that wants to impose an unconstitutional de facto government,” Maduro said. “There’s no doubt it’s him, with his craziness of believing he’s the police of the world. This is a big provocation.”

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the fray, personally calling Maduro to offer his support, the Kremlin said, and referring to the situation in Venezuela as “a domestic political crisis intensified by outside forces.”

“The destructive outside interference grossly tramples fundamental norms of international law,” the Kremlin said.

The rapid escalation of the crisis into a global power play suggested the strategic importance of the South American nation, home of the world’s largest oil reserves and seen for two decades as a foothold for Russia in the region.

Under Maduro, however, Venezuela – once the wealthiest country per capita in South America – has slipped towards the status of a failed state, sending millions of starving citizens pouring out of the country in search of food, medicines and jobs.

In a tweet sent out on Thursday, the United States requested a meeting of the UN Security Council for Saturday to discuss the Venezuelan crisis.

It also appeared likely on Thursday that much of the US staff would be withdrawn from the country amid the escalating tensions.

The US Embassy is already working with a relatively small staff, since the Venezuelan government has not approved visas for additional diplomats for some time, officials said.

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