- Juan Guaidó posted a video on Twitter saying that the Venezuelan military was now backing him and called for citizens and the armed forces to take to the streets.
- Military forces still aligned with Maduro responded by violently clashing with military members who support Guaidó and anti-government protestors.
- Leaders in the United States and Brazil have come out in support of Guaidó’s efforts, which he calls “Operation Freedom,” while others like Russia and Bolivia have condemned him.
Guaidó Declares Military Backing
Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó posted a video on Twitter Tuesday, announcing that he was launching the “final phase” of his plan to oust incumbent president Nicolás Maduro.
Guaidó delivered the message while he was surrounded by men in military uniforms at an airbase in Caracas. Most significantly, he said that his plan had the support of the military forces.
“The national armed forces have taken the correct decision, and they are counting on the support of the Venezuelan people,” he said in the video.
Guaidó added that soldiers had already taken to the streets and were protecting the constitution. Following the video, Guaidó and the soldiers clashed with other soldiers supporting Maduro who were protesting outside the airbase and who thew tear gas canisters at them.
Clashes erupt in Venezuela, with protesters throwing rocks at armored vehicles.— TicToc by Bloomberg (@tictoc) April 30, 2019
Both President Nicolas Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaido have claimed military support pic.twitter.com/AVjDpK9ZI5
Guaidó then took to the streets in Caracas, where he and his military escort were joined by protestors. Military forces that still support Maduro were seen violently fighting with members of the armed forces that now support Guaidó and anti-government protestors. Guaidó’s military supporters repelled members of the military still aligned with Maduro with gunfire and teargas.
Protestors were also seen throwing tear gas canisters and Molotov cocktails, and a National Guard vehicle drove into a crowd of protestors, running over demonstrators who were reportedly throwing stones and hitting the vehicles with sticks.
Meanwhile, it was also reported that tons of Venezuelan military defectors rallied at the Simón Bolívar bridge on Venezuela’s border with Columbia to show their solidarity with Guaidó.
Unsurprisingly, Maduro and his loyalists have condemned these efforts.
In defiance, Maduro claimed in a tweet that the military forces were still in his corner.
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino referred to Guaidó’s efforts as a “coup movement” in a tweet, arguing it aimed to “fill the country with violence.”
Other leaders have come out in support of Maduro, like Bolivian president Evo Morales, who labeled the movement a coup. Leaders and government officials in Russia, Cuba, Spain, and Turkey, have also condemned Guaidó’s actions.
On the other side, a number of world leaders have come out in support of Guaidó, especially in the U.S.
Donald Trump wrote in a tweet, “United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo echoed that sentiment, tweeting “The U.S. Government fully supports the Venezuelan people in their quest for freedom and democracy.”
Vice President Mike Pence and National Security Advisor John Bolton also expressed their support on Twitter. Brazil, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia have joined the U.S. in supporting Guaidó.
This declaration certainly represents Guaidó’s boldest move by far. Currently, it seems like this could be a turning point for Venezuela. Some people who oppose Guaidó are calling his efforts a military coup. Others, including Bolton, argue that if he is the legitimate interim president then he is just rightfully trying to transition to power.
“We recognize Juan Guaidó as the legitimate interim president of Venezuela,” Bolton said in a press briefing, “And just as it’s not a coup when the President of the United States gives an order to the Department of Defense, it is not a coup for Juan Guaido to try and take command of the Venezuelan military.”
As the protests continue, the most relevant question is whether or not Guaidó will get enough of the military to support him and turn against Maduro. The reports on this are contradictory.
Earlier this morning, Padrino tweeted that the National Bolivarian Armed Forces of Venezuela (FANB) still stand with Maduro.
However, Guaidó seemed to contradict this in a tweet, writing that he was “meeting with the main military units of our Armed Forces.”
See what others are saying: (CNN) (The Guardian) (The Washington Post)
Russia Takes Over 900 Azovstal Fighters Prisoner as Mariupol Surrenders
Ukraine said the soldiers successfully completed their mission, but the fall of Mariupol represents a strategic win for Putin.
Azovstal Waves the White Flag
Russia’s foreign ministry announced on Wednesday that it had captured 959 Ukrainians from the Azovstal steelworks, where besieged soldiers have maintained the last pocket of resistance in Mariupol for weeks.
A ministry spokesperson said in a statement that 51 were being treated for injuries, and the rest were sent to a former prison colony in the town of Olenivka in a Russian-controlled area of Donetsk.
The defense ministry released videos of what it claimed were Ukrainian fighters receiving care at a hospital in the Russian-controlled town of Novoazovsk. In one, a soldier tells the camera he is being treated “normally” and that he is not being psychologically pressured, though it is unclear whether he is speaking freely.
It was unclear if any Ukrainians remained in Azovstal, but Denis Pushilin, the head of the self-proclaimed republic of Donetsk, said in a statement Wednesday that the “commanders of the highest level” were still hiding in the plant.
Previously, estimates put the number of soldiers inside Azovstal around 1,000.
Ukraine officially gave up Mariupol on Monday, when the first Azovstal fighters began surrendering.
Reuters filmed dozens of wounded Ukrainians being driven away in buses marked with the Russian pro-war “Z” symbol.
Ukraine’s deputy defense minister said in a Tuesday statement that the Ukrainian prisoners would be swapped in an exchange for captured Russians. But numerous Russian officials have signaled that the Ukrainian soldiers should be tried.
Mariupol Falls into Russian Hands
After nearly three months of bombardment that left Mariupol in ruins, Russia’s combat mission in the city has ended.
The sprawling complex of underground tunnels, caverns, and bunkers beneath Azovstal provided a defensible position for the Ukrainians there, and they came to represent the country’s resolve in the face of Russian aggression for many spectators.
Earlier this month, women, children, and the elderly were evacuated from the plant.
The definitive capture of Mariupol, a strategic port city, is a loss for Ukraine and a boon for Russia, which can now establish a land bridge between Crimea and parts of Eastern Ukraine controlled by Russian separatists. The development could also free up Russian troops around Mariupol to advance on the East, while additional reinforcements near Kharkiv descend from the north, potentially cutting off Ukrainian forces from the rest of the country.
The Ukrainian military has framed events in Mariupol as at least a partial success, arguing that the defenders of Azovstal completed their mission by tying down Russian troops and resources in the city and giving Ukrainians elsewhere more breathing room.
It claimed that doing so prevented Russia from rapidly capturing the city of Zaporizhzhia further to the west.
See what others are saying: (The Guardian) (BBC) (BBC)
Convoy of Up to 1,000 Vehicles Evacuates Refugees From Mariupol as Russian War Effort Stalls
Russia may have lost a third of its ground invasion force since the war began, according to British military intelligence.
Hundreds Make It Out Alive
A convoy of between 500 and 1,000 vehicles evacuating refugees from the southern port city of Mariupol arrived safely in the Ukrainian-controlled city of Zaporizhzhia on Saturday.
People have been trickling out of Mariupol for over two months, but the recent evacuation was the single biggest out of the city thus far. Russian troops, who control most of the city, did not allow the convoy to leave for days, but eventually, they relented.
The convoy first traveled to Berbyansky some 80 kilometers to the west, then stopped at other settlements before driving 200 kilometers northwest to Zaporizhzhia. Many refugees told reporters they took “secret detours” to avoid Russian checkpoints and feared every moment of the journey.
Nikolai Pavlov, a 74-year-old retiree, told Reuters he had lived in a basement for a month after his apartment was destroyed.
“We barely made it,” he said. “There were lots of elderly people among us… the trip was devastating. But it was worth it.”
63-year-old Iryna Petrenko also said she had stayed in Mariupol initially to take care of her 92-year-old mother, who subsequently died.
“We buried her next to her house, because there was nowhere to bury anyone,” she said.
Putin’s Plans Go Poorly
In Mariupol, Ukrainian fighters continue to hold the Azovstal steelworks, the only part of the city still under Ukrainian control.
On Sunday, a video emerged appearing to show a hail of projectiles bursting into white, brightly burning munitions over the factory.
The pro-Russian separatist who posted it on Telegram wrote, “If you didn’t know what it is and for what purpose – you could say that it’s even beautiful.”
Turkey is trying to negotiate an evacuation of wounded Ukrainians from the factory, but neither Russia nor Ukraine have agreed to any plan.
After nearly three months of war, Mariupol has been left in ruins, with thousands of civilians reportedly dead.
“In less than 3 month, Mariupol, one of Ukraine’s fastest developing & comfortable cities, was reduced into a heap of charred ruins smelling death, with thousands of people standing in long breadlines and selling their properties out to buy some food. Less than three months,” Illia Ponomarenko, a reporter for The Kyiv Independent, tweeted.
On Sunday, the United Kingdom’s defense ministry estimated that Russia has likely lost a third of its ground invasion forces since the war began.
Moscow is believed to have deployed as many as 150,000 troops in Ukraine.
The ministry added that Russian forces in Eastern Ukraine have “lost momentum” and are “significantly behind schedule.” Moreover, it said Russia failed to achieve substantial territorial gains over the last month while sustaining “consistently high levels of attrition.”
“Under the current conditions, Russia is unlikely to dramatically accelerate its rate of advance over the next 30 days,” the ministry concluded.
Sweden also signaled on Sunday that it will join Finland in applying for NATO membership.
See what others are saying: (The Daily Beast) (U.S. News and World Report) (The Hill)
Israel Moves to Build Over 4,000 West Bank Settlements as Palestinian Homes Demolished
The Israeli military is proceeding with a plan to evict at least 1,000 Palestinians from the West Bank.
Settlers Get Ready to Move in
On Thursday, a military planning body in the Israeli-occupied West Bank approved the construction of 4,427 housing units, according to the watchdog group Peace Now.
“The State of Israel took another stumble toward the abyss and further deepened the occupation,” Hagit Ofran, an expert at Peace Now, said via the Associated Press.
The plan is the largest advancement of settlement projects since President Joe Biden took office in the United States.
The U.S. opposes settlement expansion and said as much when the plan was first announced last week, but critics say Washington has done little to pressure Israel to stop.
In a statement, U.N. Mideast envoy Tor Wennesland called the settlements a “major obstacle to peace.”
“Continued settlement expansion further entrenches the occupation, encroaches upon Palestinian land and natural resources, and hampers the free movement of the Palestinian population,” he said.
In October, Israel approved some 3,000 settlement homes despite a U.S. rebuke. There are currently over 130 Israeli settlements in the West Bank harboring almost 500,000 settlers, in addition to the nearly three million Palestinians living in the territory.
Palestinians Pushed Off Their Land
On Wednesday, the same day Israeli soldiers allegedly shot and killed Al-Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, the military demolished at least 18 buildings in the West Bank, including 12 residential ones.
Israel’s supreme court has also ruled that eight Palestinian hamlets can be expelled, potentially leaving at least 1,000 Palestinians homeless.
The area targeted is known as the Masafer Yatta, and its residents say they have been herding animals and practicing traditional desert agriculture there for decades, long before Israel took over the West Bank in 1967. Israel, however, claims there were no permanent structures there before the military designated it a firing zone in the 1980s
“What’s happening now is ethnic cleansing,” Sami Huraini, an activist and a resident of the area, told the Associated Press. “The people are staying on their land and have already started to rebuild.”