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memri
May 19, 2019 No.
8070

Gazeta.ru: Venezuela First US-Russia Confrontation Line Since The Cold War

On May 6, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov met with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland, where the two diplomats took part in the ministerial session of the Arctic Council. During the meeting, the two diplomats discussed the Venezuelan crisis. After his meeting with Pompeo, Lavrov reiterated to the media that Russia is categorically opposed to armed action.

"The use of force can only be sanctioned by the UN Security Council, or force may be used in response to aggression against a sovereign state. Nothing of the sort is happening in Venezuela. I don’t see any advocates of a reckless military solution based on my contacts with US, European and Latin American colleagues. I hope that this understanding shared by all will be translated into practical policy and that there will be no military solution because it would be disastrous," Lavrov stated.[1]

The Russian media outlet Gazeta.ru noted that Venezuela is the first confrontation line between Russia and the US since the end of the Cold War. In the Gazeta.ru's article, Russian expert Dmitry Suslov was quoted stressing that the US acknowledges that Russia is "a great power" able to shape events in Latin America. Suslov added that the US did not abandon the prospect of a military intervention in Venezuela, but it is being restrained by Russia's military presence in Caracas, since the risk of a direct confrontation with the Russian military remains high.

It is worth noting, that on May 14, Pompeo visited Russia. At the joint Pompeo-Lavrov news conference, differences between Russia and the US over Venezuela surfaced. In response to questions by the media about Russia's persistence in supporting Maduro, when "virtually every democracy" in Latin America has recognized Guaido as Venezuela's legitimate interim leader, Lavrov answered:

"With regard to why Russia has adopted precisely this position and supports the dialogue and the consideration of all issues by the Venezuelans themselves without ultimatums or preconditions, we believe that democracy cannot be instituted by force. The threats addressed to the government led by Mr Maduro from the US Administration and from Mr Guaido, who constantly mentions his right to invite an armed intervention from outside, have nothing to do with democracy."[2]

Below is Gazeta.ru's article:[3]

(Source: Mid.ru, May 14, 2019)

Lavrov-Pompeo Meeting In Finland

"Based on his meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Finland, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that there were no supporters of a military solution in Venezuela. Full-fledged negotiations between the chief diplomats of the two countries took place shortly after a telephone conversation between the presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump. During that call, the subject of Venezuela was raised as well. The parties are trying to find a solution to the crisis, but given the overall level of relations, no 'grand bargain' can be expected.

"Following his meeting with the U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, along with European and Latin American colleagues, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov stated that he did not see any 'supporters of a reckless military solution' in Venezuela. He said this after talks with Pompeo held in the Finnish city of Rovaniemi on the margins of the Arctic Summit. The head of the Russian foreign ministry characterized the meeting as constructive.

"The meeting of diplomats took place three days after a one-and-a-half-hour telephone conversation between the presidents of Russia and the United States, Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump.

"Most of that call dealt with the situation in Venezuela, where the opposition led by the National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaido tried to overthrow Nicolas Maduro, the country's president, on April 30th - May 1st.

"According to the Kremlin, Putin told his American counterpart that 'only the Venezuelans themselves have the right to determine their country's future.' Furthermore, 'outside interference in internal affairs and attempts at regime change by force in Caracas undermine the prospects for a political settlement of the crisis.'

"Trump as well agrees that a political solution to the crisis is possible. Speaking to journalists after his conversation with Putin, he noted that Putin was 'looking for something positive' in Venezuela, and he himself shares this goal. 'I feel the same way' the American president said, noting that the Russian leader 'is not going to interfere' with the situation.

US And Russia At A Dead End In Caracas

"Such statements can effectively be seen as the beginning of direct negotiations between Washington and Moscow on Venezuela.

"'This de facto means recognizing Russia as a great power able to shape events', Dmitry Suslov, an expert of the Valdai Discussion Club, told Gazeta.ru.

"Despite the difference in approaches, both sides understand that the situation is at an impasse, and neither President Nicolas Maduro nor his opponent Juan Guaido is able to overcome it…

"According to Suslov, however, any 'strategic deal' between Moscow and Washington is out of the question: 'In the current state of the Russian-American relations, no deals whatsoever are on the agenda.' 'Washington wants Moscow to leave Venezuela, but is unlikely to offer Moscow anything in return,' the expert says.

"According to Suslov, under present conditions one can talk about only tactical matters, such as possibility of preventing a direct clash between the countries [a de-confliction mechanism]. The expert notes that the U.S. did not abandon the prospect of a military solution, but it is being held back by the Russia's military presence in Caracas: 'It is to the Russian presence that the Americans attribute the failure of the recent coup attempt and the refusal of the overwhelming majority of the military to go over to Guaido's side.'

"Suslov is convinced that 'the Americans will keep hounding the Maduro regime, but they cannot decide to invade, since the risk of a direct confrontation with the Russian military remains.' With that in mind, the U.S. and Russia can discuss how to avoid direct conflict with each other even in the event of a possible invasion of Venezuela, Suslov points out. As an example, he cites the situation in Syria, where Moscow and Washington have established de-confliction mechanisms.'

"The exact number of Russian military personnel in Venezuela is unknown. Moscow previously stated that they are specialists who are tasked with training the Venezuelan military how to master the technology. Their presence, according to the statements of the Russian side, has nothing to do with the confrontation between Caracas and Washington. At the same time, according to Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza, the number of Russian servicemen in the country may be increased.

Moscow Is Caracas' Only Hope

"Venezuela, although not the most influential country, but nonetheless an important one in terms of oil production, has become a new political battlefield between Washington and Moscow. Essentially, this is the first confrontation line since the cold war days, when Latin America was the staging area for both political and military confrontations between the two countries. Nicaragua was a prime example, where the Soviet Union actively supported the leftist Sandinista rebels fighting against the right-wing dictatorship of Anastasio Somoza (who was supported by the U.S.) Cuba was another battleground. The confrontation between the Soviet Union and the U.S. caused by the Soviet missiles in Cuba nearly led a nuclear war.

"Today, both Moscow and Caracas acknowledge that relations between the two countries are more of an economic nature. For the most part, Washington does not deny that either. U.S. Secretary of State Pompeo, stated in a recent interview with an American journalist Ben Shapiro that Russians are in Venezuela to 'protect economic interests.' Russian companies have invested billions of dollars in the country's oil fields and these investments may be lost if the current authorities depart. Having said that Russian servicemen are present in Venezuela, Pompeo claimed that Cuban military personnel play the main role in Venezuela's military apparatus, who 'control the country's economy.' Recently, Washington has beefed up sanctions against Cuba aimed at forcing this country to 'leave' Venezuela. In the event of a full-scale crisis or further armed insurrections, President Maduro is seeking a direct contact with President Putin.

"Venezuelan Foreign Minister Jorge Arreaza said that Maduro might soon visit St. Petersburg to take part in the economic forum that will be held in the Russian city in early June. 'We hope that the president will be able to attend the forum, as he would like to visit Petersburg and meet Putin,' the representative of the Venezuelan Foreign Ministry told RIA Novosti. The Kremlin has not yet commented on the information: Dmitry Peskov, the press secretary of the Russian president, says he is not aware of the visit.

"The Kremlin’s reaction is fully understandable: the situation in Venezuela may change any day, and it's possible that the country's president may be another person. At the same time, the fact that Maduro is seeking a personal meeting with the Russian president at the time of a severe crisis, shows that he is aware of the gravity of his situation. When Caracas has lost the support of most Latin American countries, and China, a major investor, is keeping its distance, Moscow is Caracas' only hope…"

 


[1] See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 8057, Russia This Week – Focus On Russia's Foreign Relations – May 10, 2019, May 10, 2019.

[2] Mid.ru, May 14, 2019.

[3]Gazeta.ru, May 7, 2019. Article by Alexander Bratersky.