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Venezuela - Russia Relations

As the January 2019 political standoff in Venezuela escalated, Moscow became increasingly ardent in its support for embattled socialist President Nicolas Maduro after Washington and other capitals recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido's claim to being Venezuela's interim leader. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov -- whose country considers Caracas a "strategic partner" and which had some $20 billion in loans and investments in the country -- said on 24 January that the United States was "trying to act as the ruler of other people's destinies" by "meddling in their domestic affairs," while other Russian officials cautioned Washington not to intervene militarily.

Venezuela had almost always supported Russia in votes before the UN General Assembly and other international organizations. Venezuela was also one of the few countries to recognize the annexed Crimean Peninsula as part of Russia and to recognize the Russia-supported breakaway regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in the Caucasus.

Russian help not only allowed Venezuela to stay afloat financially, but also strengthened its army, which has become one of the strongest in the region. While the US grip on the region weakens, especially on Venezuela itself, Russia continued to cement its positions in the Latin American country. The German newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine even suggested that Venezuela might become a "new Cuba in the US backyard" for Russia.

Russia's most immediate worry was the oil giant Rosneft, which is majority-owned by the Russian state. Russia is an important creditor for Venezuela. The government and the Russian oil giant Rosneft have lent Venezuela at least $17 billion (€15 billion) since 2006, according to the news agency Reuters. Igor Sechin, Rosneft's chief executive, reportedly flew to Caracas in November 2018 to complain about delayed oil shipments that are supposed to repay much of Venezuela's debt.

In 2017, it was reported that Rosneft effectively granted a $6 billion (€5.26 billion) loan to Venezuela. The Venezuelan side was expected to repay it by giving Rosneft stakes in five major projects with their own energy company, Petroleos de Venezuela SA. The rest of the debt would be covered by oil deliveries. Taking into account that the deal is set to expire in 2019, it is safe to assume that Rosneft has already retrieved most of its money.

A new government could install more capable leaders in the oil sector, who could in turn revive Venezuela's oil industry and exports. Also, western — most likely American — companies could be allowed back into the country. This development could create a completely new playing field for global oil deliveries and bring down oil prices. This would be a worst-case scenario for Russia, whose economy relies heavily on oil and gas exports, and keeping the price of oil at the higher end of the scale.

President Chavez launched a major arms purchase program for the Venezuelan Armed Forces, including the purchase of new and advanced weaponry. After the US stopped supplying Caracas with weapons and Israel halted shipments of spare parts for F-16s, Moscow stepped in to fill the void. Russia and Venezuela have signed multi-billion contracts on military equipment, and in the near future, the country will start producing Kalashnikov rifles on its territory.

Since 2005, Venezuela purchased over $4 billion in arms from Russia. These purchases include 100,000 AK-103 rifles from Russia; the construction of a rifle and ammunition complex; Russian Mi-35 HIND attack and Mi-26 transport helicopters; 24 Sukhoi Su-30 fighter jets; IGLA-S man-portable air defense systems; and K-8 jet trainers from China. Other proposed purchases include an advanced integrated air defense system, over 90 T-72 tanks, a few hundred armored personnel carriers, Smerch mobile rocket launchers, and four KILO class diesel submarines, all from Russia.

In September 2008 two Russian strategic bombers carrying top Air Forces brass visited Venezuela. The aviation generals later voiced possible plans for renting and upgrading an air base on the La Orchila Island, which would allow Russian military aircraft patrol the Caribbean. La Orchila is about 1,350 miles from Key West, Florida, and less than 1,000 miles from the American military base in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

President Hugo Chavez said 16 March 2009 that Russian bombers would be welcome in Venezuela but the socialist leader denied that his country would offer Moscow its territory for a military base. Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, had said some strategic bombers could be based on an island offered by Venezuela. Zhikharev reportedly said 15 March 2009 that Chavez had offered "a whole island with an airdrome, which we can use as a temporary base for strategic bombers." Chavez said he told Russian President Dmitry Medvedev that his nation's bombers would be allowed to land in Venezuela if necessary.

On 06 December 2019, the Russian Minister of Defense, Sergei Shoigú, expressed his hope that Russian Navy ships and military aircraft of that country could enter the ports and continue landing at the Venezuelan airfields, respectively. receive maintenance services. During his meeting with his Venezuelan counterpart, Vladimir Padrino López, Shoigú stressed that the cooperation between Moscow and Caracas "is going quite well", due to the "regular exchange of specialists and delegations" and "good work in the field of education", in other aspects.

The Russian minister noted that, thanks to this collaboration that "benefits both Venezuela and Russia," the Russian military "get significant experience" with these long-haul flights and have the opportunity to "keep their combat equipment in good condition."

Russian Tu-160In mid-December 2018, two Russian Tu-160 strategic bombers, an An-124 military transport aircraft and an Il-62 plane arrived in Venezuela where they held joint exercises with the South American country’s Air Force. Two Tu-160 strategic bombers recently returned to Russia on December 15 after carrying out an international visit to Venezuela, which started on 10 December. During their visit to Venezuela, two Russian strategic bombers carried out a planned flight over the Caribbean Sea and held military drills in the equatorial area, including joint flights with the Venezuelan Air Force jets.

Following the flight of several Russian strategic jets to Venezuela for joint drills earlier in December, several Latin American media alleged that Russia had plans to set up its base on the Venezuelan island of La Orchila in the Caribbean Sea. The island of La Orchila, located 200 km northeast of Venezuela's capital Caracas, was mentioned by Russian media in reports about potential the military base.

Russia’s Ambassador in Caracas Vladimir Zaemskiy on 26 December 2018 said Russia was working to deepen its ties with Venezuela for the sake of regional and global stability. He said Russia wanted international relations to be based on multilateralism, rather than unilateral sanctions and "foreign dictate." Zaemsky said that more Russian jets may be sent to Venezuela as part of bilateral defence cooperation. "Within Russian-Venezuelan cooperation in this area, such missions are not ruled out in the future, and, as before, in full compliance with international norms," the diplomat said.

Zaemsky dismissed reports on Moscow's alleged plans to create a Russian military base in Venezuela. "Information on the alleged negotiations on creating a military base in Venezuela, disseminated by some media, is pure speculation. To understand the situation, I would only note that the ban on any foreign military bases is enshrined in the current Venezuelan constitution," the diplomat said.

On 23 January 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov expressed concerns over U.S. meddling in Venezuela : "[translate] We have heard talk that allows for military involvement in Venezuela, talk that the United States will now recognize as the president of Venezuela not Nicolás Maduro, but the representative of the parliament. All this is very alarming. And all this shows is that the approach of undermining governments the United States doesn’t like stays on as a priority of their activity in Latin America and in other regions."

Russian Ambassador in Caracas Vladimir Zaemsky on 25 January 2019 in a conversation with Sputnik slammed media reports about alleged presence of "private military contractors" from Russia in Venezuela . Zaemskiy said "I don't know about the presence of any Russian private military companies in Venezuela. This is another hoax". Reuters news agency reported, citing anonymous sources, that "private military contractors who do secret missions for Russia" had recently arrived in Venezuela, which is currently going through a political crisis, to boost safety of the country's incumbent president, Nicolas Maduro.

Background

Venezuela became the first Latin American country whose independence was recognized by Russia on February 17, 1857. Diplomatic relations between the USSR and Venezuela were established on March 14, 1945. By a decision of the Soviet government on June 13, 1952, they were interrupted due to the lack of conditions in Venezuela for the normal activities of Soviet representatives. Later, on April 16, 1970, diplomatic relations were restored at the level of embassies.

Beginning in the 1960s, the presence of communist Cuba, its major military buildup, and its undisguised intentions to subvert established governments in the area added an urgency to the goal of maintaining Caribbean stability. Cuba's alignment with the Soviet Union also forced strategists in democratic nations such as Venezuela to factor global variables into their security posture.

The most conspicuous decrease in Venezuela's revolutionary violence came under President Raúl Leoni Otero [1964-1969], when Cuba and the Soviet Union changed their policies in the wake of the 1967 death of Ernesto "Che" Guevara in Bolivia and the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovakia.

Rafael Caldera Rodríguez, who became President in March 1969, rejected the Betancourt Doctrine, which he considered restrictive and divisive, and which he thought had served to isolate Venezuela in the world. Bilateral relations were soon restored with the Soviet Union and the socialist nations of Eastern Europe, as well as with a number of South American nations that had fallen under military rule. By dividing Latin American nations from one another, the Betancourt Doctrine, Caldera believed, had served to promote United States hegemony in the region.

The December 1973 election was a truly pluralistic affair. The Movement Toward Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo—MAS) was a party that had been founded in 1971 by a group of PCV dissidents with liberal, "Eurocommunist" notions of a modern, election-oriented party. Unlike the Moscow-line PCV, the MAS had little bond to the Soviet Union.

Venezuela supported the Contadora process as a peaceful path to stability in an area where tensions had escalated following the 1979 seizure of power by the Sandinista National Liberation Front (Frente Sandinista de Liberation Nacional—FSLN) in Nicaragua. The Venezuelan government, led by President Carlos Andres Perez, had supported the Sandinistas during the struggle against Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza Debayle and had cooperated with Cuba, Costa Rica, and other governments to supply arms to the Nicaraguan rebels. The Perez administration, which had some doubts as to the FSLN's commitment to democratic principles, apparendy believed that it could exert sufficient influence over a post-revolutionary Nicaraguan government to ensure some degree of pluralism.

As the Sandinistas moved to force moderates out of the government, however, it became clear to Venezuela that the overwhelming foreign influence in Nicaragua was Cuban. Although Perez had cooperated with Cuban leader Fidel Castro Ruz in arming the Nicaraguans, Venezuela still viewed Cuba as a regional competitor for political influence and as a potential military threat. Therefore, as the FSLN consolidated its rule, set up Cuban-style mechanisms of control, acquired significant amounts of Soviet weaponry to equip a growing military, and increasingly aligned itself with the Soviet Union and its communist allies in political and security matters, Venezuelans looked on with growing alarm.

Venezuela maintained relations with the Soviet Union and the countries of Eastern Europe and strongly supported the political openings there beginning in the late 1980s. In many ways, Venezuela often felt as close to Western Europe as it did to the United States, but the nature of these relations changed according to who held power in Caracas.

A new stage in bilateral relations began with the first meeting in 2000 of the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin, and the President of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez, on the margins of the 55th session of the UN General Assembly in New York. Comandante Chavez visited Russia several times (with official visits in May 2001, November 2004, October 2010, with workers in October 2001, July 2006, June 2007, July and September 2008 and September 2009).

GOV-Russia cooperation suits the GOV because it signalled the GOV's ability to deal with major non-U.S. powers; to emphasize non-U.S. sources of military equipment; and as a signal of independence. Talks between Russia and Venezuela languished during the nearly two years of pre-referendum political turmoil with the exception of a brief stop-over by then Foreign Minister Ivanov in December 2003 followed by an equally brief visit by Vice-President Vladimir Yakovlev in January 2004.

President Hugo Chavez visited Spain, Libya, Russia, Iran, and Qatar during 23-30 November 2004 as part of what GOV officials called an "international offensive" to promote the new phase of the Bolivarian Revolution. After a working lunch with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Chavez told reporters that Venezuela is modernizing and strengthening its armed forces to "confront any aggression." He added that the GOV is in discussion with the GOR to purchase 40 helicopters, 100,000 automatic weapons, and a "large quantity of anti-tank and air defense weapons."

Speaking about the Ukrainian electoral crisis, Chavez said one can feel the hand of Washington behind it... If there were elections on the moon or Mars, the United States would be there." Chavez signed a joint declaration with Putin on a range of bilateral and multilateral issues. The declaration included a Russian congratulations to Chavez for winning the recall referendum in an atmosphere of complete respect for the constitution, and with the endorsement of "prestigious international observers."

Although there appeared to be a number of big ticket economic items on the agenda, the helicopter deal garnered the most public attention, and paves the way for a broader military-to-military relationship between the countries. Venezuela bought Russian helicopters; the first 10 of which are to be delivered to Venezuela before the end of 2004 rather than by mid-2005 as previously reported. In statements to the press, officials said the helicopter purchase for MI-17, MI-26 and MI-35 had been underway already.

Venezuela's nuclear cooperation agreement with Russia finalized 04 May 2009 was pure political theater as Venezuela is incapable of cooperation with Russia on the development, design, construction and operation of nuclear reactors. Also contrary to the agreement with the Russians, to the knowledge of the scientific community, there is no exploration or exploitation of uranium, ongoing or planned, in Venezuela. Even if the Venezuelan government used all Cuban scientists, exploring for commercially viable uranium deposits in Venezuela would require a large taskforce and news of such an effort would leak quickly.

Important milestones of Russian-Venezuelan relations were the first-ever visit of the President of the Russian Federation to Venezuela (November 26-27, 2008) and the visit to Caracas of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation (April 2, 2010), which gave a new impetus to the strategic partnership.

In July 2013, the first official visit of the newly elected President of Venezuela N.Maduro to Russia took place, timed to coincide with the participation in the 2nd Gas Exporting Countries Forum held in Moscow. The Venezuelan leader had intensive negotiations with President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin, who confirmed the mutual focus of Moscow and Caracas to pursue a policy of consistently deepening strategic partnership. May 9, 2015. Venezuelan President N.Maduro took part in the celebration in Moscow of the 70th anniversary of the victory in the Great Patriotic War.

On September 17-19, 2008, two Russian Tu-160 long-range strategic bomber were on a friendly visit to Venezuela according to an air patrol plan in remote geographic areas. In 2008, a friendly visit to Venezuela of a detachment of Russian Navy ships headed by the flagship of the Northern Fleet, the heavy nuclear missile cruiser Peter the Great, took place, during which joint Russian-Venezuelan naval exercises were conducted. In 2013, a detachment of warships of the Russian Navy led by the Guards missile cruiser “Moscow” entered Venezuela. In February 2015, an official visit to Venezuela of the Minister of Defense of Russia S.K.Shoigu took place. In 2016, a large Venezuelan delegation took part in the International Army Games in Russia.

In March 2008, as part of a world cruise, the Russian training sailing ship “Pallada” called at the Venezuelan port of La Guaira. In March-April 2010, the training sailing vessel "Kruzenshtern" visited Venezuela with a friendly visit. In April 2011, the Venezuelan training sailing vessel "Simon Bolivar" visited the port of St. Petersburg.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov warned his US counterpart Mike Pompeo 30 April 2019 that the continuation of the US' "aggressive steps" toward Venezuela is fraught with "serious consequences." Lavrov said "It was indicated that the continuation of aggressive steps is fraught with the most serious consequences. Only the Venezuelan people have the right to determine their destiny, for which dialogue between all political forces in the country is needed, and for which the government has long called for. Destructive pressure from outside, especially force, has nothing to do with the democratic process".

The Russian foreign ministry dismissed Pompeo's claim that Moscow supposedly convinced President Nicolas Maduro not to flee his country for Cuba. Foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova called the claim a 'fake' that was just part of the US information war aimed against the Latin American country. Venezuelan officials similarly dismissed Pompeo's claim as "fake news," adding that they demonstrated the failure of the 'US-backed coup attempt.'





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