Russian Involvement in Venezuela Threatens Opposition, US
Russia has long benefitted from Venezuelan oil due to the two countries close diplomatic relations. But with the increased threat of regime change putting their interests at stake, Russia made a forceful move last week to show that they have no intention of standing idly by.
The door to Venezuela opened for Russia on February 2, 1999, when Hugo Chavez took power, establishing a socialist government that stands to this day. And since socialism and democracy have historically not gone well together, Venezuela’s relations with the US immediately deteriorated while their relations with Russia escalated.
In fact, Russia has really been one of Venezuela’s only friends, especially as of late, and has even helped its socialist government stay in power.
But Russia hasn’t just helping Venezuela out of the goodness of their hearts. They’re helping them because Venezuela has the largest oil reserves in the world, and keeping a firm foothold in Venezuela means supplying their economy with billions in oil money.
Venezuela, too, is getting something in return: billions of dollars and access to buy Russian military equipment. In fact, since 2005, Venezuela’s government has bought over $4 billion worth of military equipment, while Russian state-owned oil company Rosneft has loaned them over $17 billion. It’s this military equipment and funding, many speculate, that has allowed the Maduro regime, and previous Chavez regime, to stay in power for so long despite a massive opposition.
And it’s oil giant Rosneft that’s had the most influence in Venezuela, especially after Maduro signed a deal that gave them 49.9% of the huge Venezuelan-owned refinery Citgo. It’s Rosneft’s enormous foothold in Venezuela’s oil industry that has allowed Russia to act as a sort of middleman when selling the country’s oil to worldwide buyers, even the US.
However, Russia’s oil dreamland is being threatened to be closed for good, with the Venezuelan opposition becoming more threatening to the Maduro regime, especially since the rise of self-declared Venezuelan President (and rightly so according to the Venezuelan constitution) Juan Guaidó, who has already been recognized by a number of countries, the US being one of the first among them.
If Guaidó were to take power and topple the Maduro regime, he wouldn’t be as friendly with Russia. He would most likely stop making oil deals that have benefited Russia for so many years and allow others to have a bigger share, especially the US who has been his biggest foreign ally so far.
Having little or no access to Venezuelan oil would be a huge blow to Russia’s economy which has received billions from the partnership. Venezuela’s current political state also gives Russia the opportunity to have an influential foothold in the Western Hemisphere, which would be almost gone in the event of a regime change.
So in a sudden move to show the world that they’re not interested in checking out anytime soon, Russia sent two military planes, with over 100 armed personnel and a Russian defense official, to Venezuela last week. This has dramatically escalated tensions between the US and Russia/Venezuela, and President Donald Trump has even stated that “all options” are still on the table concerning Venezuela, even military intervention. In response, however, Vladimir Putin said that American military intervention would have “catastrophic” consequences.
This has further complicated the situation in Venezuela, as it implies that the opposition, and possibly the US, will have more than just Maduro to deal with if they want to turn the tables.
Although military conflict between the US and Russia is extremely unlikely, Russia’s huge stakes and recent move have made one thing almost certain: regime change in Venezuela will not be as simple as dealing with Maduro alone.