WASHINGTON — The Pentagon criticized the recent Russian deployment of warplanes to Venezuela amid the oil-rich nation's economic crisis.
Earlier this week, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons landed in Caracas, a move designed to show Moscow's support of President Nicolas Maduro's socialist regime.
"The Venezuelan government should be focusing on providing humanitarian assistance and aid to lessen the suffering of its people and not on Russian warplanes," Pentagon spokesman U.S. Army Col. Rob Manning said of the deployment.
Venezuela, graced with the world's largest oil reserves, was once the economic envy of South America. The oil-rich nation faces a collapsing economy sparked by government corruption, social unrest and a global commodity bust.
Manning then reminded that the U.S. military deployed the hospital ship USNS Comfort to South America earlier this year to provide humanitarian aid to refugees fleeing the desperate conditions.
Since its deployment this summer, the Comfort, a vessel transformed from a hulking oil tanker into a 1,000-bed hospital ship, has treated more than 20,000 people along its stops in various Central and South American nations.
"The Comfort is currently in Honduras and will continue treating those in need until the ship departs this week," Manning said, before knocking Moscow's actions in the region. "Contrast this with Russia, whose approach to the man-made disaster in Venezuela is to send bomber aircraft instead of humanitarian assistance."
On Monday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo condemned the Russian military flight on Twitter writing: "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."
Meanwhile, the Kremlin rejected U.S. criticism saying Pompeo was wrong and undiplomatic to condemn the deployment to Caracas.
"We consider it completely inappropriate," Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Tuesday.