Written by Marren Haneberg
Economic and Political Ties Between Russia and Venezuela
On January 23, thousands of Venezuelans began protesting against longtime president Nicolás Maduro. The protests were initiated by “self-proclaimed interim president” Juan Guaidó, who leads the opposition against Maduro (Noack). The United States, along with over 20 other countries, recognizes Guaidó’s presidency. On January 27, US National Security Adviser John Bolton tweeted “Any violence and intimidation against U.S. diplomatic personnel, Venezuela’s democratic leader, Juan Guiado, or the National Assembly itself would represent a grave assault on the rule of law and will be met with a significant response” (“Venezuela Crisis: White…”).
Other countries support Maduro, including Russia, China, Mexico, and Turkey. Russia’s support is particularly relevant in global politics, as its support for Maduro is another foreign policy clash with the United States, similar to clashes between the two countries in Syria and Ukraine (“Venezuela Crisis: White…”). Russia attempted to block a United Nations Security Council meeting about the issue on January 26, but was outvoted by other Security Council members (“US demands world…”).
History of Cooperation
Under Maduro’s predecessor, Hugo Chavez, Russia and Venezuela created strong “economic ties ranging from oil and loans to arms sales” (Roache). These ties are a crucial factor in Russian-Venezuelan relations. Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, “operates in Venezuela” and has lent at least $3.1 billion to PDVSA, Venezuela’s state-owned oil producer. Russia is a “lender of last resort” for Venezuela (“Factbox: Oil, loans, military…”).
Russia made “significant investments in Venezuela” (NightWatch). Between 2016 and 2017, Russian oil company Rosneft “advanced Venezuela over $17 billion in loans and credit lines” (Roache). In 2017, Russia allowed Venezuela to restructure $3.15 billion in sovereign debt (“Factbox: Oil, loans, military…”). On January 30, an empty 400-passenger Russian jet landed in Caracas, allegedly to withdraw about $840 million from the bank, about “20 percent of the bank’s holdings” (Litvinova). Showing that his regime is an unreliable investment for Russia, Maduro halted the shipment after the Bank of England denied his request to withdraw $1.2 billion in gold (Laya).
Support for Maduro provides a political power source for Russia. In 2009, Venezuela supported Russia by “recognizing the Georgian breakaway provinces of Abkhazia and South Ossetia as independent” and has since “backed the Russian positions on Syria and Ukraine” (“Chavez backs Russian…”, Guy). By supporting Maduro, the Russian government preserves its own power by reinforcing the idea “that the state should have the final say, no matter what citizens want” (Guy). Maduro uses a strongman ruling style similar to Russian President Vladimir Putin. Accordingly, the Russian government would see an overthrow of Maduro as a threat to its own legitimacy.
The two countries have shown economic-military cooperation. Between 2005 and 2013, Venezuela “signed 30 contracts worth $11 billion” for Russian arms (Herrero and MacFarquhar). In 2018, Venezuela invested in two Russian nuclear-capable bombers (“Venezuela crisis: Maduro…”). On January 25, “private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia flew into Venezuela” to guard Maduro (“Venezuela crisis: Maduro…”).
Russia seeks a Latin American partner to “counterbalance US influence in the region and to enhance Russia’s great power status in the world.” Russia sees a regime change in Venezuela as a loss of its “last asset in Latin America” and a political loss against the United States (Roache). However, Russia’s significant investments in Venezuela are an economic incentive for it to support “the emergence of a stable government that shows it can pay,” and Maduro cannot pay (NightWatch). Moving forward, Russia’s actions will depend on whether it prioritizes politics or economics first.
Russia and Venezuela held joint military exercises in December 2018. The countries have a
history of military and economic ties.
“Chavez backs Russian recognition of Georgia regions.” 2008. Reuters. August 29. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-georgia-ossetia-venezuela/chavez-backs-russian-recognition-of-georgia-regions-idUSN2945876620080829.
“Factbox: Oil, loans, military – Russia’s exposure to Venezuela.” 2019. Reuters. January 24. https://www.reuters.com/article/us-venezuela-politics-russia-factbox/factbox-oil-loans-military-russias-exposure-to-venezuela-idUSKCN1PI1T4.
Guy, Jack. “Why China, Russia and Turkey are standing with Maduro—in the US’s backyard.” 2019. CNN. January 29. https://www.cnn.com/2019/01/29/americas/venezuela
Herrero, Ana Vanessa and Neil MacFarquhar. 2019. “Russia Warns U.S. Not to Intervene in Venezuela as Military Backs Maduro.” January 24. The New York Times. https:// www.nytimes.com/2019/01/24/world/americas/venezuela-news-maduro-russia.html.
Laya, Patricia. 2019. “Maduro’s Bid to Fly Gold Out of Venezuela Is Blocked.” February 1. Bloomberg News. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2019-02-01/maduro-regime-said-to-halt-plan-to-ship-20-tons-of-gold-abroad.
Litvinova, Daria. “Russia claims no knowledge of plane sent to Venezuela ‘to extract 20 tonnes of gold’ from national bank.” 2019. The Telegraph. January 30. https://www.telegraph.
NightWatch. “For the Night of 30 January 2019.”
Noack, Rick. 2019. “The divide on Venezuela: Who’s supporting Maduro, and who’s following the U.S. lead in recognizing Guaidó.” January 28. Washington Post. https://www. washingtonpost.com/world/2019/01/28/divide-venezuela-whos-supporting-maduro-whos-following-us-lead-recognizing-guaid/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.8d7c664fca78.
Roache, Madeline. 2019. “What Russia stands to lose in Venezuela.” January 30. Al Jazeera. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/01/russia-stands-lose-venezuela-190126142523335.html.
Roth, Andrew. 2019. “Russian mercenaries reportedly in Venezuela to protect Maduro.” January 25. The Guardian. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/jan/25/venezuela-maduro-russia-private-security-contractors.
“US demands world stands with ‘forces of freedom’ in Venezuela.” 2019. The Telegraph. January 26. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2019/01/26/spain-germany-france-give-venezuelas-maduro-eight-days-call/.
“Venezuela crisis: Maduro displays military might as US warns of ‘significant response’ to threats against diplomats.” 2019. The Independent. January 28. https://www.independent.co.uk/ news/world/americas/venezuela-crisis-nicolas-maduro-army-juan-guaido-us-john-bolton-a8749566.html.
“Venezuela crisis: White House ‘will respond to threats against diplomats’.” 2019. BBC News. January 28. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-47023370.