Humanosity says…It’s as if the Cold War has returned. Russia’s increasingly assertive foreign policy has one goal. Keep the west off balance and provide a bulwark against regime change. In Venezuela, this clear strategy finds itself up against the somewhat disjointed foreign policy of the Trump White House. This in-depth article examines how Russia’s intervention in Venezuela is a perfect reflection of Vladimir Putin’s foreign policy goals……
For a country bestowed with the largest oil reserves in the world what has happened in Venezuela can only be described as a man-made tragedy. Once a beacon of democracy and prosperity, Venezuela has been reduced to the ignominious status of one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises.
The crisis has led to renewed calls for democracy under the leadership of Juan Guaidó, president of the National Assembly. Even though he is recognised by over 50 countries as the interim President of the country, Nicholas Maduro still clings to power. Attempts by the US to remove him have thus far proved utterly ineffective.
Russia’s Foreign Policy Objectives
In contrast, Russia’s actions in Venezuela are a clear demonstration of Russia’s publicly stated foreign policy goals. Soon after he assumed power Putin outlined these goals as:
1. Restoring Russia as a great power on the international stage
2. Ensuring Russian hegemony in the “near abroad,” the independent countries that were part of the Soviet Union
3. Substituting a multipolar international system for the US-dominated unipolar system of the 1990s and early 2000s
4. Preventing “colour revolutions” that the Kremlin believes overthrow legitimate, if corrupt and undemocratic, governments around the world
5. Undercutting US interests where possible, and using issues like Venezuela to sustain US-Russian dialogue and Russia’s role as an arbiter of international security
6. Undermining the rules-based liberal international order, which restricts Moscow’s pursuit of its declared interests in its neighbourhood and globally, and the transatlantic alliance that supports that order.
The development of Russia’s ties to Venezuela has to be seen in the context of other global crises. In 2003 The Rose Revolution swept through Georgia with strong US support. 2004 saw the Orange Revolution in Ukraine. Russia sees both these countries as part of its near abroad and saw US support as a direct challenge.
The political utility of the tie to Venezuela was evident in 2008 when Moscow sent TU-160 strategic bombers to Venezuela for a joint naval exercise in the Caribbean Sea. This served as a counterpoint to US support for an increasingly pro-Western Ukraine and for Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili during Moscow’s war on Georgia; Chávez offered Russia the use of a Caribbean coastal airbase in 2010.
If you then add Putin’s anger at perceived US support for demonstrations in Russia in 2011 then it’s plain to see how the Russian intervention in Venezuela neatly follows Russia’s foreign policy priorities. There is the added factor that many of Russia’s biggest state companies are well suited to the Venezuelan economy. Considering the reported links between these companies and the Kremlin it’s hard not believe that the possible financial rewards for well connected Russian individuals aren’t a factor, even though the money poured into Venezuela has yet to pay off for Russian companies.
What the Future Holds
The Russian intervention in Venezuela so far has been relatively risk-free and not very costly in economic terms. However, that could all change. Russian spending on foreign adventures is becoming increasingly unpopular at home. At the same time relations between Russia and Brazil are becoming more strained as the latter sees the Maduro regimes as a regional disaster.
The final and perhaps most important consideration is that Russia only has limited ability to deploy significant military force so far from home. Should the US choose a more militarized approach to the Maduro problem there is little that the Russians could do to counter this directly. They may be able to retaliate in places like Ukraine and Syria but couldn’t hope to challenge a US military intervention.