What exactly are Russian military contingents doing in Venezuela? Nicolas Maduro's justifies the whole thing on baseless claims about U.S. plans to assassinate him, adding that these are "technical teams" deployed to "provide counsel and service equipment." Reports about Russian soldiers' presence in remote gold-producing areas in Bolivar state, that is hundreds of miles away from where Maduro hangs, surfaced a while ago. Last reports indicate that Russian military have been seen in Coloncito, a town in Tachira state near the Colombia-Venezuela border area, at the opposite end of former. The Russians are allegedly installing radars, and looking after air defense and telecommunication systems acquired by chavismo in the past. This unprecedented build up of Russian soldiers is hardly referred to in current debate. Earlier rumours pointed at presence of a contingent of Wagner Group mercenaries, however no evidence / corroboration has emerged.
Maduro, like his predecessor, has this fantasy that the "Empire" is out to kill him. It's a page from Fidel Castro's book. Maduro is certainly no Soleimani, so it must be really tough for a "revolutionary" like him, to live with the fact that the U.S. government does not give a toss about him and limits its action purely to administrative measures, such as haphazardly implemented sanctions.
Russia, on the other hand, is filling the void, laughing all the way to the bank, while establishing a beach head a couple hours flight from Miami.
No one can fault Vladimir Putin's opportunism, or Maduro's ability to capitalize on Donald Trump's alleged aggression. One tangible result of U.S. policy towards Venezuela is Russia's ever increasing military presence and economic involvement. While Federal Agencies dither on whether to put PDVSA, chavismo and the Boliburgeoisie out of business, Putin has decidedly placed Russian State resources at Maduro's service.
Rosneft has become the biggest player in Venezuelan oil in a very short time. Its leverage over all things to do with Venezuela's energy will only increase. Evrofinance Mosnarbank, sanctioned and all, continues to flaunt sanctions regime. Receivables are settled nowadays via internal transfers -recall FONDEN owns a majority stake- and from there funds flow into Russia's banking system. There's absolutely nothing Treasury can do about Maduro demanding contractors and creditors to take a trip to Moscow, if they want to get paid.
Gazprom, Gazprombank and VTB bank, even though part of Ukraine-related sanctions regime, also make a mockery of Treasury. No secondary sanctions have been imposed on any related party. The boligarchs that help Maduro stay in power are operating in Russia with the same ease they used to stateside.
Then, there's FSB operatives eyeing offtake of Venezuelan crude. It is worth repeating: Lavrov knows much better than Pompeo what is happening in Venezuela, for not only minute knowledge of oil operations is had. Russian partners Alejandro Betancourt and co not only provide intel on Venezuelan politics, it is quite certain his employee Rudy Giuliani keeps him up to speed on U.S. happenings too. It'd be foolish to believe otherwise.
Little is known about how, or if at all, the Trump administration is dealing with the Russia / Putin factor in Venezuela. What is clear from other latitudes though, is that Putin will not just relinquish his position without getting his pound of flesh. In all this, Juan Guaido appears to be less than an afterthought, his "U.S. Ambassador" hasn't even talked to Russians.