Earlier this week, a Boeing 777 commercial aircraft landed in Caracas, Venezuela. The plane, which belongs to Russia’s Nordwind Airlines, had never made the journey before, and according to local reports, arrived in the troubled nation carrying only its crew. Initial speculation suggested the aircraft may have been carrying Russian mercenaries sent to bolster embattled former Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is no longer seen as the formal leader of the nation by the majority of its people, as well as much of the international community.

Soon, however, speculation turned away from what the plane could have brought in to Venezuela and instead toward what it may have been sent to take out.  That idea was prompted in no small part by a tweet posted by Venezuelan lawmaker Jose Guerra, who claimed the 777 was sent to Caracas to return with about 20 tons worth of Venezuelan gold–or about 20% of the nation’s entire gold supply. Reports from within the nation indicate that the gold was “set aside for loading” and that the aircraft was parked in a remote area of the airstrip.

(Translation of above tweet: This is the Russian plane that arrived last night. It is in auxiliary Maiquetia, belongs to Nordwind Airlines and came direct from Moscow only with crew.)

The 209-foot-long Boeing 777, wouldn’t break a sweat carrying 20 tons of gold, and its passenger jet profile makes it an unlikely target for military interference, making it a reasonable choice for such an operation. Thus far, however, no direct evidence has linked the aircraft to reports regarding the gold.

Nonetheless, it does seem likely that the plane is there for the gold, even prompting President Trump’s national security adviser John Bolton to issue this warning via Twitter:

“My advice to bankers, brokers, traders, facilitators, and other businesses: don’t deal in gold, oil, or other Venezuelan commodities being stolen from the Venezuelan people by the Maduro mafia.”

So while it can’t be conclusively stated that the aircraft was sent from Moscow to collect the gold, it stands as perhaps the most logical explanation for the unusual air traffic.

Why would Russia help Maduro get away with his country’s gold?

While some attribute Russia’s support of Maduro to the nation’s socialist politics, the truth is, their support is born entirely out of capitalist enterprise. Maduro’s regime reportedly owes Russia billions of dollars–money Russia is unlikely to recoup as quickly from a U.S.-friendly opposition government that is likely to replace Maduro’s as his grip on the struggling nation recedes. Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft, is also partnered with Venezuela’s state-owned oil producer, Venezuela SA, further providing a cash incentive for keeping a government in place that would prefer Russian ties over Western ones.

Did Russia send a Boeing 777 airliner to pick up Venezuelan gold?
Nicolas Maduro with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Courtesy of the Kremlin.

Maintaining access to that gold may be the intent behind Maduro’s plan to have it taken out Venezuela. His regime was already denied access to $1.2 billion worth of gold held in the Bank of England earlier this week, citing President Juan Guaidó, who declared himself the nation’s interim leader as the head of its opposition party last week. Since then, more than a dozen nations have recognized Guaidó’s claim, including the U.S. and the U.K.

“We stand shoulder to shoulder with the United States in saying that the National Assembly and its President Juan Guaidó are best placed to lead Venezuela to the restoration of its democracy, its economy and its freedom,” said U.K. Minister of State Alan Duncan.