A number of photos surfaced in local Venezuelan media in September that claimed to show Russian-speaking men wearing Venezuelan military outfits in Caracas.
Speculation of Russian military presence in Venezuela has been ongoing, but proof remains scarce. Based on independent media coverage affirming the transfer of millions of dollars in cash from Russia to Venezuela, however, the presence of Russian military and private military companies in the country would indicate additional, non-monetary support for the Maduro regime.
From as early as September 8, five photos have circulated online, all depicting Caucasian men, some of them wearing a Venezuelan military uniform.
The men’s identities have not been confirmed, but several articles claimed that they were speaking in Russian. The DFRLab is currently working to identify the men and determine if they serve in the Russian military.
The articles also claimed that these photos were taken in Fort Tiuna, a military district in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. Based on the few geolocation details available, the DFRLab geolocated the photos to a military hotel: Circulo Militar in Fort Tiuna.
In three out of four photos with columns, the men were walking in front of distinct white columns on a squared pattern of floor tiles. Additionally, in one of the photos, two men wearing “Recreador” (“Recreation”) t-shirts sat under a sun umbrella, which suggested that the photos were taken in a recreational area.
The area near Fort Tiuna has a limited number of recreational areas, and one of the only locations with a pool is Hotel Circulo Militar. The same umbrellas that the men were sitting under and the pattern of the floor tiles was easily identifiable in photos of the hotel. Furthermore, one of the photos uploaded on Google was taken at exactly the same angle, with the same distinct white columns clearly visible.
The soldiers were photographed next to the pool. The same umbrellas and markings on the ground, including the distinct change in the color of the tiles, can be seen in both the publicly available photos and satellite imagery.
The DFRLab has been monitoring the deployment of Russian military in Venezuela since early 2019. On April 2, the DFRLab reported on Russian military personnel landing in Caracas. The surfaced photos allowed for geolocation and confirmation of the personnel’s arrival.
Rumors of Russian troops in Venezuela have circulated since late 2018, yet concrete evidence of their permanent deployment has been scarce. The Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced it would send more troops to Venezuela in June 2019, if the unrest continued. The recently surfaced photos are the most recent evidence of a Russian military presence in Caracas, but the size of the contingent and the soldiers’ identities remain unknown.