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Striking a Deal with Russia on Spheres of Influence

May 12, 2019 in Economics

By Ted Galen Carpenter

Ted Galen Carpenter

Trump administration officials and their hawkish domestic allies
sound increasingly strident alarm bells about foreign meddling in
Venezuela’s internal political turmoil. They contend that Russia,
China, Cuba, and Hezbollah are especially active in supporting
leftist president Nicolas Maduro’s beleaguered government. Indeed,
some U.S. analysts insist that without outside backing, especially by Russia
and Cuba, pro-democracy opposition forces likely would have forced
him to relinquish power already. When anti-government
demonstrations erupted in Caracas on April 30, Secretary of State
Mike Pompeo stated that Maduro had been ready to board a plane to
fly to exile in Havana but changed his mind at Russia’s urging.

U.S. leaders appear to exaggerate the extent of Moscow’s
meddling. Given Maduro’s uncompromising behavior throughout the
most recent demonstrations, the notion that he was ready to flee
the country absent Russian intervention seems far-fetched. The
loyalty of Venezuela’s military has not yet wavered, and he continues to draw
support from left-wing citizens’ militias. Those factors have been
more relevant to his continued grip on power
than Russian (or any other foreign) support.

Nevertheless, Russia definitely has meddled in Venezuela’s
political turbulence. Moscow is a major financial prop for Maduro’s
government, and the Kremlin has provided tangible military backing
as well. In December 2018, Russia deployed two nuclear-capable bombers to Venezuela, and in
March 2019, it sent some 200 military personnel to help Caracas
refurbish its air defense system. Several
hundred Russian mercenaries also appear to be operating
in the country to assist Maduro’s security forces deal with regime
opponents. Maduro’s foreign minister fanned the flames of
Washington’s worry and anger by stating that Russia’s military
involvement in his country might even increase.

The United States has insisted on maintaining a sphere of
influence in the Western Hemisphere since the proclamation of the
Monroe Doctrine in the 1820s. Russia’s policy in Venezuela
represents a direct challenge to that doctrine, and U.S. leaders
should make it clear that a continuation of such behavior will have
a
markedly negative effect
on bilateral relations. Cuba has been
a foreign political and military client in the hemisphere for
decades, precisely the situation the Monroe Doctrine aimed to
prevent. The United States has no right or justification to dictate
Venezuela’s internal governance, but it would be unwise to tolerate
the establishment of a second hostile foreign client state.

The Trump administration should insist that Russia respect the
Monroe Doctrine and confine its Venezuelan ties to normal
diplomatic and economic relations. At the same time, it is
essential for U.S. officials to acknowledge that the United States
and its NATO …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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