Recent evidence indicates that to date approximately four hundred Russian mercenaries are plying their trade in Venezuela. In May 2018 and on January 25, 2019 two squads of the Russian Soldiers of Fortune (SOF) arrived in Venezuela to help defend the country’s embattled president. The Russian ex-military contractors operate under the “Wagner Group” who contribute fighting experiences from Africa, Syria and Ukraine.
Regional intelligence data indicates the Russian contingents departed aboard two chartered planes destined for Cuba. In Havana the SOFs separated and travelled on commercial flights to Venezuela. On Wednesday January 23, 2019 a Russian Ilyushin-96 aircraft flew via Senegal and Paraguay to land in Havana, Cuba. The civilian jet belongs to a Russian presidential administration division.
Flight tracking data recorded several Russian government planes that landed in Venezuela. Between December 10, 2018 and December 14, 2018 one Russian Antonov 124 heavy cargo plane and one Ilyushin 76 transport aircraft flew from Russia to Caracas. Another Ilyushin 76 visited from December 12, 2018 to December 21, 2018. The three planes are registered to the Russian Air Force.
For more than one year approximately two thousand Russian intelligence agents have been operating in Venezuela, reporting directly to the local Minister of Defence. In January 2019 Russia deployed two nuclear capable TU-160 Bombers to a Venezuelan military airfield. On January 30, 2019 a Boeing 757 registered to a newly established Moscow air freight company, transporting unknown cargo departed Moscow.
The aircraft flew to Dubai then onward to Casablanca in Morocco and Cape Verde Islands in the Atlantic, before descending at Simon Bolivar International Airport near Caracas. In the recent past Russia’s military updated its doctrine to reflect organizational, equipment and tactical modifications. The “Gerasimov Doctrine” or “Hybrid Warfare” was introduced. Russia’s government employed a combination of conventional and special operations forces, plus provided direct support to private military contractors such as the Wagner Group.
Ricardo Swire is the Principal Consultant at R-L-H Security Consultants & Business Support Services and writes on a number of important issues.