Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, speaks during an interview in Caracas on June 13, 2021.

Nicolas Maduro, Venezuela’s president, speaks during an interview in Caracas on June 13, 2021. (Gaby Oraa/Bloomberg)

Venezuela has decided to deploy more than 5,000 soldiers on its eastern Caribbean coast after neighboring Guyana received a warship from the UK amid a dispute over the Essequibo territory, according to President Nicolas Maduro.

“Venezuela has the right to defend itself, to tranquility, to peace,” Maduro said Thursday on state TV, while accusing Guyana of violating an agreement signed two weeks ago to continue talks over the oil-rich territory without the use of arms. “We do not accept provocations, threats from anything or anyone.”

Venezuela made a similar move in 2018 to halt ships working for Exxon Mobil Corp off in the area. Today’s actions, which Maduro said were just the first stage of a wider plan, could lead to an escalation of the long-dormant dispute between the neighboring countries over the Essequibo, a region roughly the size of Florida that’s controlled by Guyana but claimed by Venezuela since the 19th century.

Venezuela’s Navy Commander Neil Villamizar said 5,682 military personnel from several components of Venezuela’s armed forces were deployed, along with three ocean patrol vessels, three multipurpose vessels, seven missile boats, eight amphibious vehicles and over 20 fighter planes, including 12 Sukhoi.

While the troops deployed represent roughly 4% of Venezuela’s estimated military force, it matches the number of Guyana’s estimated combatants. That balance of power could shift if Guyana’s allies intervene, according to Rocio San Miguel, an expert in military issues and the president of Caracas-based watchdog group Control Ciudadano.

Earlier this month, the UK reaffirmed its support for Guyana following the renewal of Venezuela’s border claim on the Essequibo region.

Following a visit by David Rutley, British Minister for the Americas, Caribbean and Overseas Territories, Britain deployed a Royal Navy warship known as HMS Trent to Guyana to take take part in joint exercises.

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