Will Russia release demons of war in Venezuela

Oleksandr Khara
18:00, 26 March 2019
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Russia sent two planes carrying almost a hundred Russian troops and fighters of so-called private military companies to Caracas, capital of Venezuela (where for the third month confrontation is ongoing between supporters of Guaido, whom the United States, most of Europe and Latin America have recognized the legitimate interim president, and Maduro, who has real power).

Russia's support for the Maduro regime is fully integrated into the historical and contemporary Russian context. Russia has always been called "the gendarme of Europe". After all, Moscow and in certain periods, Petersburg, has always been reactionary. If somewhere the revolution began, and progressive governments could come to power, the Russians intervened to suppress these processes.

Maduro is the same as Bashar al Assad, but somewhat in a different proportion

As a matter of fact, Moscow's support for the Maduro regime, which proved its inability to manage the country with authoritarian notes, and its willingness to use force against its own citizens, explains it all. Maduro is the same as Bashar al Assad, but somewhat in a different proportion.

In addition, Russia, in principle, has no allies or friends. And the Venezuelan regime since Hugo Chavez has been seemingly friendly to the Russian Federation. Therefore, there are certain friendly investments in Venezuela. When there were good energy prices, Venezuela was number one in the purchase of Russian killer scrap, that is, weapons, worth billions. There are also investments in the energy sector, there are loans which Russia allegedly needs to protect.

Although it is very strange that, say, China, which has much more investment in Venezuela (more than half of Chinese investment in Latin America is concentrated in Venezuela) does not act similarly. I would be less surprised if I saw in Venezuela some Chinese servicemen who would thus try to stabilize the situation in order to protect their investments.

Russia is a weak country in all dimensions, except in the nuclear component

In addition, Russia is a weak country in all dimensions, except in the nuclear component. Therefore, they try to find weak spots of the West, in particular of the United States.

And here there is a very clear parallel with Syria: when Assad's regime was almost losing, and Obama's and West's policies as a whole were slavish, Putin saw for himself an opportunity in Syria. With the minimum of necessary military and economic forces, he intervened. And with such an asymmetric war, he managed to roll the situation back and help Assad retain power. As a result, everybody has to take Russia into account in the issue of settling the Syrian conflict.

I think that the Russians, inspired by such successes of their asymmetric policy in Syria, want to implement a similar scenario in Venezuela.

In addition, Russia is interested in reimbursing all costs for this operation with profits from cooperation with the Maduro regime.

Sending to Venezuela a small number of Russian soldiers is simply "putting their flag" in this territory. This gesture has a political value rather than being an indication that Russia may somehow change the balance of power in Venezuela.

As we know, about a month ago it was reported that Russia had deployed to Venezuela special operation forces and security officials who helped the Maduro regime manage the crisis. We can draw parallels with Ukraine, when in 2014 in order to "deal with the Nazis at the Maidan" Russians were deployed in Kyiv who "helped" the then Ukrainian authorities. We all know how much blood was shed through this "help", and eventually all this did not play in Yanukovych's favor.

All of these factors explain Russia's behavior toward Venezuela.

Russia has deployed to Venezuela special operation forces to help the Maduro regime manage the crisis

In addition, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already warned Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov that Washington would not tolerate such behavior, and called on Moscow to stop inserting troops into Venezuela.

A couple of weeks ago at a few fora, a hint was voiced that the Pentagon was working on a certain scenario for Venezuela, so a military campaign against this country was likely to be carried out. Although so far we are not seeing such a scenario being implemented, I would not rule out this possibility, since Venezuela is an important country in the region and the U.S. cannot leave it alone facing its current problems, because it is a threat to neighbors, allies and partners of the United States.

In addition, Venezuela is a threat given the possibility of other actions, such as it was last year, when Russian strategic bombers landed in Caracas. These were Russia's demonstrative actions. Putin cannot invent anything new, so he repeats the best, as he thinks, pages of Soviet history (remember the 1962 Caribbean crisis). Russia did not deploy its nuclear forces in the region, but the arrival of strategic bombers in Caracas shows that it aims for something like that. It is very much in the context of nuclear blackmail, which Putin, primarily against the United States, uses to shatter the unity of their position with Europeans. Washington realizes that it cannot be ruled out that Maduro's regime, due to his appreciation for Putin's help, would give permission to deploy missiles or provide air fields to this end. And this is a direct threat to the national security of the United States.

How likely is the force scenario in Venezuela? First of all, it should be recalled that protesters are being killed in Venezuela. The local government is unable to solve the most painful problems: there was a problem with electricity recently, when the capital and large cities were blacked out, there were supply shortages and food problems. It is about basic things of survival, not to mention some kind of economic development or stability. Under such conditions, a large number of people are on the brink of despair, and such people can get together and resist the police and the military.

So the conflict in Venezuela has not been resolved. Moreover, there was a division where most of the Latin American countries joined the United States and the Organization of American States and supported the opposition leader Guaido as Venezuelan president, moreover - some troops took an oath to support him. But the things didn't escalate beyond this point. That is, on the one hand, there is a nation which aspires to change and supports the alternative candidate, but on the other - there are military, most of whom support Maduro. Therefore, the confrontation will be preserved, and, of course, it has the potential to grow into something more than just a collision on the streets of Caracas.

However, Russia, by sending its military, is unlikely to promote the force scenario. On the contrary, it is more profitable for them to stabilize the situation in Venezuela and preserve the regime of Maduro than start a new war. For Russia, it is better to maintain stability in Venezuela than to release the demons of war because it will then be difficult to curb them.

In addition, if Venezuela starts something like the war in Syria, then the U.S. will not stand aside. For Russians, the main thing is to stabilize the situation while keeping Maduro in power. But there is another risk: it is unlikely that Russia understands the Venezuelans well – it is a country with a different culture and deep problems, and because of this, Russians could unintentionally, not deliberately, because of certain miscalculations, provoke escalation. Such a threat is still out there.

Oleksandr Khara is an expert with the "Maidan of Foreign Affairs" Foundation

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