Alexander Shchetinin, head of the Russian Foreign Ministry's Latin America department, told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview Wednesday that the Norway talks have produced a "chance, albeit very fragile, for political and diplomatic solution."
Shchetinin represented Russia at a meeting in Stockholm earlier this month aimed to help advance political settlement, which also involved representatives of the United Nations, the Vatican, Cuba and the European Union. He said the main goal of the meeting was to discuss possible assistance to Norwegian mediation efforts.
Shchetinin noted that despite deep distrust between President Nicolas Maduro's government and the opposition, there is a "real chance" of success.
The U.S. and several dozen other nations have cast their support behind opposition leader Juan Guaido and recognized him as interim president, asserting that Maduro's re-election last year was illegitimate.
Shchetinin criticized Washington for what he described as "extremely rude meddling in Venezuelan affairs," adding that "you can't appoint a president from abroad."
He emphasized that any settlement must be based on international law and respect for Venezuela's sovereignty.
"Any forceful interference from abroad, and particularly military interference, must be excluded," the Russian diplomat said. "Any options could be on the table, except the military option. That would be a catastrophe for the region."
Shchetinin said that he and other Russian representatives have been talking to various opposition forces alongside the government, but wouldn't name any names. He emphasized that Moscow always lets Maduro's government know about its contacts with the opposition.
The diplomat argued that Moscow would be open to any settlement that would reflect the Venezuelans' will, and acknowledged that Guaido represents some of Venezuelan political forces. At the same time, he criticized Guaido for excessive reliance on the U.S. advice.
"The problem is that Mr. Guaido has shown himself in recent months as a politician who lacks independence," Shchetinin said. "Regrettably, he has coordinated his every step with the U.S. administration."
He rejected U.S. criticism of Moscow for sending its personnel to Venezuela, saying that Russian military experts have traveled to Venezuela to help service weapons supplied under old contracts. Shchetinin added that they numbered at dozens, not hundreds, and no new arms contracts have been signed.
Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.