‘Russian nukes in Venezuela’: Claim
Russia has secretly installed nuclear missiles in Venezuela a US politician has sensationally claimed in a chilling echo of the Cuban missile crisis.
Republican congressman Mario Diaz-Balart said he believed Vladimir Putin's hidden nukes were a direct threat to the "national security" of the United States.
He made his astonishing allegations hours after Venezuela was pushed to the brink of civil war when opposition leader Juan Guaido called for rival Nicolas Maduro to be ousted from office.
Mr Diaz-Balart told Fox News if Mr Maduro stayed in power it could be "an open door for the Russians and for the Chinese and for others to increase their activity against our national security interest."
Journalist Tucker Carlson then asked: "Are you suggesting they are going to invade?"
"The closest we ever came to nuclear war was because the Russians put missiles, right, nuclear missiles in Cuba," Mr Diaz-Balart said.
"Are you saying the Russians will put nuclear missiles in Venezuela?" Mr Carlson asked.
"What I am suggesting is that they are already there," Mr Diaz-Balart answered, without offering any evidence to back up his claim.
Mr Putin's very open support of President Maduro has long been compared to the 1962 crisis sparked by the installation of nuclear-armed Soviet missiles on Cuba, The Sun reports.
Mr Diaz-Balart's claims also come after Russia landed two nuclear bombers in Venezuela in a show of defiance to Donald Trump.
The Tu-160 Russian bombers landed in Caracas in December as Mr Putin publicly paraded his support of the socialist president.
Their arrival on Venezuelan soil came just a week after under-fire Mr Maduro travelled to Moscow to meet his Russian counterpart.
However, international observers are quick to point out the pair's relationship is one based on finance rather than friendship.
The Kremlin has billions at stake after it sank a fortune into loans propping up Mr Maduro - money it stands to lose if he is ever ousted from power.
Mr Putin has already handed Venezuela billions of dollars in credit underwritten by its huge oil reserves - reportedly the largest in the world.
Mr Maduro's military is also said to owe the Kremlin billions of dollars for tanks, missile defence systems and fighter jets it has purchased in recent years.
Any repayments will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power - with all future army orders likely going straight to the Pentagon.
Venezuela's military bases, airfields and ports are also seem as an ideal staging-post for Russian forces in the region.
Mikael Wigell, of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL: "Establishing close relations with Venezuela gives Moscow a certain nuisance power in relation to the United States, and that can be used as a bargaining chip in future dealings with the United States.
"It also can be kind of a showcase for Russia's aspirations to be considered a global power."
Not surprisingly, Russia has repeatedly and openly supported Venezuela's sovereignty, maintaining that the country should be allowed to develop without any external interference.
The support of the Russians is much welcome for Maduro who has found himself increasingly isolated since Donald Trump's election.
US President Donald Trump has appealed for a swift end to the "brutal repression" of the Venezuelan people, following an abortive military uprising by forces backing the US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido.
"The brutal repression of the Venezuelan people must end, and it must end soon," Mr Trump said as he hosted a national day of prayer service at the White House.
"People are starving. They have no food they have no water, and this was once one of the wealthiest countries in the world," said the president.
"So we wish them well, we'll be there to help and we are there to help."
It came as US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he would discuss disagreements on the Venezuela crisis with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov when they meet next week in Finland.
A US official said the two top diplomats would take up "a broad range of issues" when they see each other on the sidelines of an Arctic Council meeting starting on Monday in the northern Finnish city of Rovaniemi.
A Venezuelan human rights group says at least four people died in two days of protests.
The Venezuelan Observatory of Social Conflict says the dead from the unrest on Tuesday and Wednesday include two people who were shot in the city of La Victoria and two others hit by gunfire in Caracas, the capital.
One of those hit by gunfire, 16-year-old Yosner Graterol, died of his injuries on Thursday morning, the human rights group said.
Human rights activists say at least 230 people were injured and 205 were detained during the clashes between protesters and police.
Mr Guaido's call on Tuesday for an uprising by the armed forces to oust President Nicolas Maduro went unheeded.
Now, Mr Maduro is urging the armed forces to combat "traitors".
Speaking at Fort Tiuna, a military base in Caracas, Mr Maduro also said the opposition had sought to provoke bloodshed in Caracas with Mr Guaido's call, which failed to push