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Mystery surrounds Russian passenger jet’s visit to Venezuela

Click to play video: 'Mysterious Russian plane linked to Venezuelan gold' Mysterious Russian plane linked to Venezuelan gold
WATCH ABOVE: Mysterious Russian plane linked to Venezuelan gold – Jan 30, 2019

Is Russia sending mercenaries to reinforce Venzuelan President Nicolas Maduro‘s hold on power? Or is the Kremlin trying to get something – or someone – out of the country before the situation gets worse?

The unusual arrival of a Russian passenger plane in Caracas has set social media abuzz with rumours about its mission after the Kremlin pledged to support its ally Maduro against a U.S.-backed effort to drive him from office.

READ MORE: Venezuelan court slaps travel ban on opposition leader Guaido, freezes his assets

The Boeing 777, with space for some 400 passengers and belonging to Russia’s Nordwind Airlines, was parked by a private corner of the airport after flying direct from Moscow, according to flight tracking data and Reuters photos.

It was the first time it had made the route, the data showed.

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WATCH: Maduro claims Trump wants him dead as pressure continues to mount in Venezuela crisis

Click to play video: 'Maduro claims Trump wants him dead as pressure continues to mount in Venezuela crisis' Maduro claims Trump wants him dead as pressure continues to mount in Venezuela crisis
Maduro claims Trump wants him dead as pressure continues to mount in Venezuela crisis – Jan 30, 2019

Neither Nordwind nor the Venezuelan government immediately responded to a request to comment on why the jet had flown to Caracas.

A plane from Russian company Nordwind is seen at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela, January 29, 2019.
A plane from Russian company Nordwind is seen at Simon Bolivar Airport in Caracas, Venezuela, January 29, 2019. REUTERS/Andres Martinez Casares

Venezuelan social media was alive with theories – that it had brought mercenaries, was there to escort Maduro into exile, or was loading up with gold. None of those theories was based on solid evidence, but the feverish speculation was a testament to the atmosphere of uncertainty in the country as Maduro comes under unprecedented international pressure to step down.

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WATCH: Venezuela diplomatic envoy warns Maduro against imprisoning Guaido

Click to play video: 'Venezuela diplomatic envoy warns Maduro against imprisoning Guaido' Venezuela diplomatic envoy warns Maduro against imprisoning Guaido
Venezuela diplomatic envoy warns Maduro against imprisoning Guaido – Jan 30, 2019

Reuters reported last week that private military contractors who carry out secret missions for Russia had flown into Venezuela to beef up Maduro’s security in the face of mass opposition protests last week, according to people close to them.

READ MORE: How shadowy mercenaries cash in on Russia's wars

The plane normally flies between Russia and Southeast Asia and is not recorded to have flown to Caracas before, according to publicly-available flight data. Neither Nordwind nor other commercial airlines offer direct Moscow-Caracas flights.

Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta reported the plane flew with two crews and no passengers.

WATCH BELOW: Maduro says he was ready to sit down for talks

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Maduro says he’s ready to talk to Venezuela’s opposition – Jan 30, 2019

Maduro claims he is facing a Washington-backed coup attempt led by opposition leader Juan Guaido, who last week proclaimed himself president and was recognized by the United States as the legitimate head-of-state.

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Russia has accused U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration of trying to usurp power in Venezuela and warned against any military intervention. The Kremlin on Tuesday condemned new U.S. sanctions against Venezuela’s vital oil sector as illegal interference in the OPEC member’s affairs.

WATCH BELOW: Russia denounces U.S. sanctions against Venezuela

Click to play video: 'U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are illegal: Russia' U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are illegal: Russia
U.S. sanctions against Venezuela are illegal: Russia – Jan 29, 2019

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