By Paulo Botta*
Russia’s interests and presence in Latin America is not new. We should remember Russian activities in Cuba during the Cold War, which almost generated a nuclear war between Moscow and Washington. After the dissolution of the Soviet Union, it was quite clear that Central and South America were not among the top priorities of the Russian Federation.
Anyway, at the beginning of the 21st century Russia returned to that region and Venezuela and other Chavist anti-imperialist (mainly understood as anti-American) populist governments were eager to deep their diplomatic, economic and military relations with Moscow.
From the Russian side we can identify a general objective, which is to gain influence in Latin America at the expense of the United States and a particular one: to secure lucrative economic opportunities in the oil and gas sectors.
A marriage of convenience between Venezuela and Russia was born at that time. Moreover, it lasts until today.
In the case of Venezuela, after the death of Hugo Chavez in 2013, his successor, Nicolás Maduro, the reduction of the international oil prizes and the mismanagement of the national economy generated a crisis that began as economic, then social and finally political.
In this situation of institutional weakness, foreign powers as Russia, China, and the United States intended to gain influence and to get benefits for their companies. However, since Maduro continued its anti-American rhetoric were mainly Russian and Chinese companies those that obtained the lion´s share. It is important to note that according to international studies Venezuela has larger oil proven resources than Saudi Arabia, which helps to understand the interest of those extra regional powers in that south American country.
The regional and international pressure on Maduro’s government and the growing domestic opposition lead to a political and economic isolation of Venezuela. As a consequence of that the government increased its dependence on Russia and China.
Russian oil and gas companies are very active in Venezuela and the main interest of Putin’s administration is to secure their interests and protect their investments. More than investments, Venezuela is highly indebted to Moscow and Beijing since during the last five years those two countries were the only external creditors to Maduro’s government.
Behind the so-called strategic partnership, there is pure economic and geopolitical interest.
The main problem that face Russia (and China) is how to convince to the Venezuelan opposition, headed by Juan Guaidó, to recognize their position in the case of changes on the government. Due to the determined support received from Washington it is not clear that Moscow and Beijing will get what they want. Washington want a new beginning, to begin from scratch and not any kind of compensation or share with Russia and China. From our perspective, those are extreme positions (Russia and China from one side and United States on the other side) and diplomatic channels could open the ground for negotiations and compensations.
Russia’s deployment of troops has to do with media more than with a military need. We can argue that those forces are there to protect Russian interests (Russian infrastructure and investments) not Maduro’s government.
Any military clash would be hard to sustain for Russia due to the impossibility to maintain a logistic chain and the financial costs involved. It is more rational to consider the deployment of troops as an insurance for its interests and a leverage for any potential negotiation.
At that moment, nor the United States nor any other South American country (mainly Colombia and Brazil) is eager to a violent regime change in Venezuela and a military intervention. If Washington (and Guaidó) recognize the interests of Russia and China, Maduro’s government will lose its main political and economic supporters and will be open to a transition. In the meantime, the Venezuelan people is trying to survive. Venezuela has generated more refugees than Syria. Just to note it.
Russia’s deployment of troops in Venezuela has caused a new standoff between the U.S. and Russia with the U.S. accusing Russia of intervening in Venezuela’s internal affairs. But is the U.S. really in the “moral high ground” of such accusation given its history of intervening?
Source: This article was published by Modern Diplomacy