The Russian state-run press and Twitter-sphere have been ablaze with indignation over the Trump administration’s bold move in Venezuela this week. In case you missed it, the U.S. government and allies across the hemisphere on Wednesday collectively recognized opposition leader Juan Guaido as interim president, in an effort to bring down the disastrous regime of socialist President Nicolas Maduro, a regime which has caused so much misery for the Venezuelan people.
There are many reasons why Moscow is unhappy with what happened.
First of all, of course, the Maduro dictatorship has long been a thorn in America’s side, which is always good for Russia. Keeping U.S. foreign policy off balance is a paramount interest for the Kremlin, diverting precious American resources and focus away from Russia’s own foreign policy misadventures. North Korea is another useful chip for Moscow, as Kim Jong-un disrupts the Pacific, threatens American cities, and unnerves America’s allies in the region.
A dictatorship in trouble and in need of Russian support is a valuable commodity for the Kremlin, especially in Africa where access to minerals and other commodities can be very lucrative. Venezuela, of course, is awash in oil, something Russia knows a thing or two about. There are estimates that socialist Venezuela may have more oil more oil off its shores than some of the Persian Gulf OPEC powerhouses.
And with the Venezuelan state oil company PDVSA underfunded and in shambles, these oil reserves are ripe for the picking. Russian hydrocarbon expertise would go a long way to getting the money spigots flowing again for the Maduro regime, though not the Venezuelan people.
Second, Russia is eager to establish a military presence on America’s doorstep in a replay of the Cuban Missile Crisis, which almost brought the world to nuclear war. Caracas has offered a Caribbean island off its coast as an air base for long-range Russian nuclear bombers.
With Russia now adding hypersonic weapons to its arsenal, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that these weapons deployed not far from U.S. shores would make any effective missile defense system impossible. The Trump administration obviously knows this and that’s one urgent reason they are pushing for Mr. Maduro to go.
Then there’s the inconvenient fact that Russian President Vladimir Putin cannot afford to allow Mr. Trump a win when it comes to Venezuela.
Russia has lent Caracas money, which it knew it would never get back, with an understanding the Kremlin would receive instead access to oil and military basing rights from the government. With Mr. Maduro gone, this repayment becomes highly unlikely. Mr. Putin’s domestic popularity has gone down significantly for a variety of factors in recent months, and the ex-KGB agent no doubt figures a big foreign policy win can only help his standing.
The Trump administration is right to do all it can short of military intervention to bring down Mr. Maduro and all his corrupt cronies, though the threat of force, correctly, has been left on the table. They have destroyed a once proud and wealthy country.
I traded Venezuelan bonds on Wall Street for two decades, bonds that were once widely coveted by investors. Now they are worthless. I hope President Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo can help bring this wealth and security back to the Venezuelan people, who deserve it.