Once again Russia is challenging the United States through its open and brazen support for the Venezuelan dictatorship. Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said that President Vladimir Putin is willing to send more troops to the South American country to support the regime of Nicolás Maduro.
According to Tass, the Russian state news agency, in a meeting with Maduro, Ryabkov reaffirmed that troops previously sent to Venezuela have already completed their function, and that Moscow is ready to launch repeated missions.
Ryabkov said that the “tasks faced by the groups that have been working here have been accomplished,” referring to Russian troops deployed in Venezuela, adding that “if the situation requires additional efforts or adjustments, it will be done.”
Rybakov also attacked the United States for the sanctions it has imposed on the Chavista dictatorship.
According to Rybakov: “The legality of [the presidency of] Maduro is not up for debate. Sanctions that the US has imposed on Venezuela are an attempted coup d’etat. The damage of the sanctions has exceeded $110 billion and this has not been taken into account…the United States’ attempts to overthrow the legitimate government of Venezuela have become a clear demonstration of violations of international law,” he said, adding that “this is economic terror that has been unleashed” against the Chavista regime.
The Trump administration knows that “Russia has been crucial for Maduro to endure US sanctions,” said Elliott Abrams, special envoy for Venezuela, in a recent interview with ABC de España.
Abrams said Russia has assumed a leading role in the defense of Maduro and that Russian state oil company Rosneft has played a key role as well. “Venezuela owes them a lot of money; last year the debt reached 8 billion dollars. When we sanctioned PDVSA [the Venezuelan state oil company] the first thing Venezuela did was go to Rosneft to sell the oil that we once bought here in the United States. And Rosneft has played along, and it is clear that they do so because Putin orders it,” he said.
Russia intervened in an aviation incident between Venezuela and the United States
Meanwhile, the US Southern Command denounced that a Venezuelan Air Force plane put a US flight crew “at risk” by approaching “at an unsafe distance” last Friday, July 19, in international waters over the Caribbean Sea:
“This action demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support to Maduro’s illegitimate regime and underscores Maduro’s recklessness and irresponsible behavior, which undermines international rule of law, and efforts to counter illicit trafficking.
In a statement issued on Sunday, the US Army determined that “Russian-made fighters aggressively followed an EP-3 plane at an unsafe distance in international airspace for a prolonged period of time, jeopardizing the safety of the crew and mission of EP-3.” And they pointed out that this “demonstrates Russia’s irresponsible military support for the illegitimate Maduro regime.”
Russia, Maduro’s lifeline
The Venezuelan dictatorship is using Russia as a lifeline in many respects. Recent events demonstrate how the Russian government uses its military and economic clout to strongly favor Maduro.
It would not be convenient for Putin, under any circumstances, for Maduro to abandon power, especially after receiving much of Venezuela’s wealth. With the economy of the South American country devastated by more than six years of recession, the Maduro government has appealed more and more to Russia in search of the cash and credit it needs to survive, offering precious state oil assets in return.
In June it came to light that the Chavista regime gave two new gas fields to Russia, giving them 100% of the project, and all the rights to the gas in question.
The Russian oil company already participates as a minority partner in several joint oil production projects in Venezuela, such as Petrovictoria, Petromonagas and Petromiranda, in the Orinoco oil belt, as well as Boquerón and Petroperijá, in Zulia state. In addition, in March Maduro decided to move the Petroleum Office of Venezuela from Lisbon to Moscow to strengthen the strategic partnership between the two countries.
International analysts say that Russia continues to support Maduro not only to increase his presence in Latin America and inconvenience the United States, but also because Venezuela has granted Russia millions of dollars of concessions in financial matters.
Rosneft has channeled more than USD $17 billion in loans to the Chavista regime over the past decade. The company also extracted three million tons of oil in 2017 from its operations in Venezuela. In general, Russia has invested in many Venezuelan industries, from banking to bus assembly. At the same time, among Latin American countries Venezuela has been one of the largest buyers of Russian weapons.
Because of these debts and other economic ties, Putin has backed Maduro, suspecting that if interim president Juan Guaidó assumes power, those who supported the dictator will probably be expelled, and Russia’s privileged access to oil fields of Venezuela will be revoked.