Tension in Venezuela, Russia's ally in Latin America, is on the rise. Thousands of Venezuelans are taking to the streets in an effort to remove Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from the presidency. The opposition is accusing Maduro of having led the country into bankruptcy and of having eroded the country's institutions. On March 29, 2017, the Venezuelan Supreme Court, which is obedient to Maduro, announced that it would take over the powers of the opposition-led National Assembly. However, after strong criticism, the ruling was reversed. Meanwhile, the National Electoral Council postponed regional elections and suspended a recall referendum against Maduro. Venezuela also announced its resignation from the Organization of American States (OAS), after the 19 member states called for an urgent special session to discuss the situation in Venezuela.
Venezuela is also considered to be the biggest beneficiary of Russian-produced weapons in Latin America. On May 23, 2016, the Russian Foreign Ministry wrote that Venezuela is Russia's "longstanding political and economic partner." On February 24, 2016, in an interview with the Russian news agency Interfax.ru, senior presidential adviser Vladimir Kozhin defined Venezuela as a "long standing priority." Russia is worried about a change of regime in Venezuela, since if this happens, Russian interests in the country would suffer a major loss.
Below is an update on Russia-Venezuela relations:
Protester facing the Venezuelan police. (Source: Lavanguardia.com)
Venezuelan Defense Minister Visits Russia
Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López visited Moscow to participate in the Russian Defense Ministry's Conference on International Security, April 26-27, 2017. He tweeted that he would bring to Russia "the voice of Venezuela."
In his speech at the conference, Padrino López expressed Venezuela's concern over the cooperation agreement signed between Venezuela's neighbor Colombia and NATO, in order to fight "organized crime." "NATO has a sad history of warlike actions in the past... NATO is an organization with high operational character and a history of aggression," he stressed.
Text: "I bring the voice of Venezuela, always thinking about our beloved Latin American and Caribbean region; and we remember: Peace is the path!" (Source: Twitter.com/vladimirpadrino, April 25, 2017)
Text: "Vladimir Padrino's meeting with Russian Minister of Defense [Sergey Shoigu], strengthening technical-military relations and cooperation" (Source: Twitter.com/prensaFANB, April 28, 2017)
Padrino López speaking at the conference in Moscow. (Source: Dailymotion.com)
Russian FM Spokesperson Zakharova: "Outside Forces Clearly Have A Major Disruptive Impact On The [Venezuela] Situation"
During her weekly press briefing, Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova accused "outside forces" of having a "major disruptive impact" in the political situation in Venezuela. She said: "Looking at the political situation in this country, we see that both camps, the Chavistas and the opposition, enjoy strong support throughout Venezuelan society. Neither side can deny the other the right to exist and stand up for its interests. At the same time, we strongly believe that attempts to achieve political results through riots are at odds with the democratic process. The country can resolve the challenging and urgent issues it faces only by promoting meaningful and effective dialogue as the only civilized way to bridge the differences within the society based on Venezuela's constitution and current laws, while preventing violations of sovereignty or interference in domestic affairs in any form. Only those who stand for settling disputes by force can scorn at holding talks.
"We cannot fail to note that outside forces clearly have a major disruptive impact on the situation. Their actions have already resulted in the death of as many as 26 people during riots. Russia mourns these victims together with the people of Venezuela. Unfortunately, those behind the violent action and acting with a sense of impunity can cause even more harm. I suggest that those so-called social engineers who preach civil disobedience take a closer look at what they achieved in Syria, Libya, Yemen, and also in Ukraine. What are outside forces trying to achieve in Venezuela? Are they looking for the same results? We reiterate that only the Venezuelan people themselves can resolve the issues their country is now facing, based on the constitution and through dialogue."
(Mid.ru, April 27, 2017)
Protests in Venezuela. (Source: Publimetro.co)
Protests in Venezuela. On banner: "No More Dictatorship" (Source: Lapatilla.com)
Zakharova Accuses U.S. Southern Command Of Interference
In a previous briefing, Zakharova showed Moscow's support for the Venezuelan regime, portraying the opposition as violent. Zakharova said: "We're watching with concern the situation in Venezuela, a country with which we maintain friendly relations, where opposition activists continue to clash with law-enforcers, even with the Easter holidays approaching. We feel sorry for the people who were killed or injured in street violence that is spiraling out of control. We cannot help mentioning a growing risk that the destructive scenarios which we have spoken about time and again and have warned against and which call to mind the grievous events in Chile in the 1970s might be implemented. We believe that non-violence offers a way to end political confrontation – this is exactly our vision of how to resolve the political crisis and resume nationwide dialogue for the sake of searching jointly for answers and solutions to the socioeconomic challenges facing the country."
Zakharova then criticized the statements of the U.S. Southern Command, warning that "the growing humanitarian crisis in Venezuela could eventually compel a regional response." She stated: "In this context, we're concerned about the statements by the U.S. Southern Command to the effect that further aggravation of the crisis in Venezuela might require a prompt response at a regional level. It should be understood that statements like these are adding to the instability, escalating the situation in that country. They cannot be treated otherwise than words to encourage Venezuelan radicals to create an atmosphere of uncertainty and instability and incite violent confrontation. We consider the fact that tensions are running high in Venezuela to be a very dangerous trend. Honestly, in our view, this would hardly be in the interests of the United States and the entire international community, including the countries in the region.
"We would like to say again that all political processes unfolding in Venezuela should be strictly in line with the constitution, keep to both its letter and spirit in full, and comply with the governing laws. There is no alternative to a peaceful settlement of Venezuela's internal problems reached at the negotiating table and in compliance with the constitution – and there cannot be any."
(Mid.ru, April 5, 2017)
Protests in Venezuela. (Source: Panorama.com.ve)
Zakharova: 'We Reaffirm Our Commitment To The Principle Of Non-Interference'
In March 2017, Zakharova said: "Political tension has again flared up in the friendly Republic of Venezuela. We are analyzing the legal aspects and the possible consequences of the decision to transfer legislative powers to the Supreme Court of Venezuela.
"Here are our considerations.
"First, we believe that all decisions taken by the bodies of power and political and civil forces must comply with and be based on the constitution. This is our firm position, which we are hereby reaffirming.
"Second, in light of the above, measures must be taken to resume the operation of all legal bodies of power, which should adjust their activities, including those that have resulted in the current crisis, to the national legislation.
"Third, broad and constructive political dialogue should be launched in the country to prevent any further escalation of confrontation.
"And fourth, it would be advisable for the mission of international mediators represented by respected international politicians and the regional community (UNASUR) to resume their operation.
"We stress the importance of replacing the logic of confrontation with the logic of dialogue. The external forces should refrain from making statements that could add fuel to the fire of infighting in Venezuela. We reaffirm our commitment to the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of countries. As a great Latin American politician [Mexican liberal politician Benito Pablo Juárez] said, 'Respect for the rights of others means peace'."
(Mid.ru, March 31, 2017)
Russia Will Complete Arms Deliveries To Venezuela
Deputy Director of Russia's Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation Anatoly Punchuk said that Russia plans to complete arms delivery to Venezuela by the end of the year. He said: "The implementation of a package of over 10 contracts concluded with Venezuela in 2009 has actually been completed. The armor, missile and artillery armaments, air defense systems, and accompanying military equipment have been delivered to Venezuelan partners. The delivery of the remaining armaments and military hardware under them is planned to be completed this year... We are also receiving separate applications from Venezuelan partners for the delivery of small batches of military products."
(Tass.com, April 5, 2017)
In 2015, the Russian media outlet Rbth.com reported that Venezuela's armed forces were almost completely equipped with Russian technology, except for transportation aviation and the fleet. Venezuela, it said, had purchased from Russia Su-30 destroyers, T-72 tanks, BTR-80A armored vehicles, Grad multiple rocket launchers, and other military technology.
(Rbth.com, December 10, 2015)
It is also worth mentioning that in late 2015, Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoigu mentioned the possibility of opening military facilities in Venezuela. However, the Venezuelan Defense Ministry stated that the country's constitution prohibits permanent foreign military bases. Alternatively, Russia is checking the possibility of establishing temporary military installations, such as centers of technical supply and sustainment. In 2015, Russia mentioned the possibility that Russian strategic aviation would refuel in Venezuela. In early 2015, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro asked Shoigu to supply anti-tank rocket systems and submarines, as well as additional jets and helicopters.
(Warfiles.ru, December 15, 2015)