Venezuela thrust to forefront of US-Russia clashes(Source Associated Press) The crisis in Venezuela has been thrust to the top of a list of long-simmering spats between the United States and Russia, with both sides entrenched in diametrically opposed positions from which they are unwilling to retreat. Russia’s support for embattled Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who is refusing to cede power to U.S.-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido, is just the latest of issues that have split Washington and Moscow. The dispute comes as relations between the Cold War foes have already been riven by Russia’s meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, its military intervention on behalf of Syrian President Bashar Assad, its 2014 annexation of Crimea and continued backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine. And, even as President Donald Trump seeks better ties with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, his subordinates are stepping up criticism of Russia on these issues with a recent particular focus on Venezuela. Russia and Venezuela have a political, military and economic alliance that was cemented between Putin and the late President Hugo Chavez. The Russians have provided the South American nation with substantial assistance, including an air defense system and help circumventing U.S. sanctions on their oil industry, but insist the extent of their support has been exaggerated by American officials. Since the beginning of the week, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton have repeatedly denounced Russia, along with Cuba, for aiding Maduro, whose re-election last year is viewed by the U.S. and more than 50 other nations as illegitimate because of fraud.