Dangerous games

Friends, partners, and comrades
Friends, partners, and comrades. Landlord and tenant? Nyet.

“The Venezuelan geographical space is an area of peace. No foreign power or coalition may establish foreign military bases nor any other kind of military-purpose installations.”

That is part of Article 13 of the Venezuelan Constitution, and it is crystal clear. Which is why the news that Russia was looking to build military bases in, among other places, Venezuela, came as such a shocker.

The foreign media has taken these comments with a heavy dose of alarm. For example, here is Mary Anastasia O’Grady in today’s WSJ:

“On Wednesday, as Venezuelan strongman Nicólas Maduro was promising more repression to crush relentless student protests, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu told reporters that Moscow plans to put military bases in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. A few days later a Russian spy ship arrived in Havana harbor unannounced.

The usual Cold War suspects are back. More accurately, they never left. Former KGB officer Vladimir Putin is warning President Obama that Russia can make trouble in the Americas if the U.S. insists on solidarity with the Ukrainian people. Meanwhile, Latin America’s aging Marxists are lining up behind Mr. Maduro, successor to the late Hugo Chávez.”

The possibility that Russia might plant itself on Venezuelan soil is certainly dangerous. At a time when the Cold War has never shown more signs of springing back to life, with Putin invading his neighbor and the US finding itself at odds with how to deal with him, the Russian President’s ambition is to stir the American pot as much as he can. If he can get away with military bases in Latin America, he will.

The problem is that Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elías Jaua has already said that, no, according to the Constitution, Russia cannot have a military base in Venezuela.

Could Jaua and Maduro go back on their word? Absolutely. But in the meantime, we need to be careful about stirring up old ghosts and nonexistent threats.

I’m no expert on the Cold War, but if there is one thing we learned from it, it’s that countries like ours were treated as roadkill in the bloody games played by higher powers. We need to nip this idea of Russian military bases in the bud, and prevent it from escalating. It’s the only responsible thing to do.

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  1. Maybe Russia cannot have a military base in Venezuela, but they could come to help Venezuelan troops with “training”, etc. and end up staying here for quite some time.

    • We’re already getting Belarus’s training,along with what the Soviets taught Cuba(and they’ve developed it as well) on intelligence,repression and all things related to letting the leading party survive for decades,no matter who has to die.If we ALSO let the Russians in then we’re looking at the invasion of south america by the commies of old.
      The Cold War is coming back to life indeed: China on the Economy,Russia on the Military and Cuba on the Ideology. South America is doomed in my opinion, and USA needs to watch their own backyard I guess.If we let these extremely corrupt autocrats win too much space…we’ll be wearing jumpsuits in no time.

  2. RIght, the constitution says no, that means nothing.

    However, we’re not Cuba, and i don’t think that PSUV is going to let Russian military bases in. However,when and if things escalate with the 2 major players this might change. We’re ruled by people who think this is 1965. Interesting and dangerous times ahead.

    • I think all countries, specially in Europe and LatAm need to get their shit together,before the shit hits the fan and they get splooshed.

      • The only lesson I can remember from the cold war was that the Soviet Union collapsed because it over-extended itself. That’s why I think Putin is losing his mind. A base in Venezuela is idiotic except from the point of view of someone in a delusional state.

        • I’d just add, Putin did not need to invade Ukraine as he had de facto control over it, except for this uprising, which was bound to degenerate into a lot of infighting between a bunch of corrupt nationalists beholden to oligarchs beholden to ….Russia (like the Orange Revolution turned out to be). Why he did it makes no sense. Kepler, maybe you can explain…why do you invade a country you have virtually total control over unless you are an insane megalomaniac?

          • Canuckhead, first:


            I have an Ukrainian friend from Kiev who studied in Moscow during Soviet times. He switches from Russian to Ukrainian at home all the time. I knew a few others from both sides and I have talked to a couple of Russian Crimeans recently.

            This is just my impression from what I have heard from them or from the press on the Russian and Ukrainian sides (this latter just recently).

            Times were changing. Even people in the predominantly pro-Russian East people were tired of Yanukovych – even those who were more pro-Russian – up to a certain level (as often the case, it’s not that you are either or). After the killings in Kiev and after people saw all these properties the Yanukovych clan had, people were definitely going to go pro EU. And finally the EU was promising the help it was not delivering with Yanukovych in power.

            This meant Russians saw they were losing it.

            Putin, I think, is trying to play a double game here. By moving in this way he could end up either
            a) annexing a region where most people feel very Russian (but a 25% does not at all), people who have had grievances about language issues mainly and who are also worried Ukrainian nationalists would take the linguistic policies back on the other direction, or
            b) by screwing up the whole region, forcing Ukraine to make concessions and allow for a loose federation where Russia can still play a part – in the Donetsk area and Crimea – effectively dividing Ukraine.

            Crimea was Russian from the end of the XVIII century, when Russia took it from the Otoman Empire. A Muslim Tatar minority remained and more and more Russians started to migrate to the area. During WW2 some of those Tatars in Crimea turned to the Nazis to help them get rid of the Russians. When the Soviets took back the region, Tatars were moved to Central Asia or Siberia and half of them died on the move. Russians and the others dispute how much collaborationism there was among the non-Russian groups.

            Khrushchev, who was of Ukrainian and Russian background, decided to make Crimea part of Ukraine in 1954 and allowed those Tatars who hadn’t died during the force removals during Stalin’s time to go back.

            Russian speakers have felt closer to Russia. If you speak to most of them, they feel Russian. Russians also don’t like learning Ukrainian, even if it is an extremely close language. They have complained a lot about linguistic policies – even though lately that shouldn’t have been an issue-.

            On the other side there are indeed ultra nationalist groups within Ukraine. Some of them can even be classified as neo-Nazis…or they negate the role their nationalists played during WW2. I recently talked to two Ukrainians who are very nationalistic. When I mentioned I had seen many praising Bandera, they said: so what? I asked them whether they also thought he was a hero and they said “yes”. I asked them whether he was not a collaborator with the Nazis. They denied it and they said they didn’t have anything against foreigners, etc and Russia has as many issues or more with xenophobia as Ukraine. I think they were right in saying Russia has as many problems with xenophobia as Ukraine or more but I am not sure about themselves either.

            In any case: there are anti-Russian Ukrainians who talk a lot of rubbish against Russians and they are a wonderful excuse for Russian nationalists but in reality there are as many extreme right among the Russians.

            In Russia even quite some people who are not Putinists are now supporting Putin, but there is a minority that strongly opposes this intervention…but they are just a sector of the intelligentsia or the ones with closer ties. It’s a sad story.

            Here you see a tiny demo in Moscow.

            The Guardia Naci – sorry, I mean the OMON, acted very swiftly.

            The Russian economy has been slowing down in the last year, something I expected.
            And now the currency is under further pressure.

          • Here, on the other side, you see the ugliest part of the Ukrainian nationalists:

            The curious thing: that was in Lvov, which is in the Far West, next to Poland. There there are no Russians actually.

          • Thanks Kepler for a great description of Ukraines complicated ethnic situation , you are much better at explaining these things than most western journalists Ive read . !!

          • Thanks Kepler. My roots are in Lviv, which is of course the Ukrainian spelling of Lvov. Always nice to hear what the locals are up to…

          • great summary of the heated situation, Kepler. Many thanks.
            This article that recently appeared in Foreign Policy may interest you: http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2014/03/02/rescue_me . Nagel mentioned it in a tweet.

            p.s. The only thing I know about Ukraine during WW2 is that the country gained territory from Poland, as a result of the Molotov–Ribbentrop Pact of 1939. So, for instance, the once-Polish city of L’vov became the Ukranian city of Lviv, overnight. As for Ukranian henchmen, they were prized for their brutality by the Nazis.

          • Tartar complicity with Nazis is mostly Stalinst invention. The Gulag was full of people whose only crime was to have lived in Nazi-occupied areas; paranoid suspicion supplied the evidence against them, as with the Crimean Tartars, whose land Stalin needed.

          • It’s not that farfetched, the Finns essentially relied on the Nazis to liberate themselves from the soviets …

        • When the USSR and Cuba were sweeties — CUBA traded worthless sugar for oil then the USSR went broke.
          Chavez invited the Cubans in to help him hold power– he paid Cuba with oil.
          Even when Chavez cursed the US loudly he still exported oil to the US–WHY– the US has the only refineries that can refine Venezuela tar crude– part of the finished product sold back to Venezuela for domestic use and ‘gift’ to Cuba

    • Putins invasion of the crimea is a game changer , it will make the political forces which want a stronger more militant and aggresive US foreign policy more influential. If Putin continues with his international adventures the US govt will see an internal pressure to toughen its stance vis a vis regimes such as Maduros in Venezuela , more so if Maduro adopts a too friendly posture with Putins Russia. Woe to him if he dares allow a Russian base in Venezuela . The regime didnt approve of Colombia having even a small US presence in Colombia , now they are going to allow Russia to have a full blown military base in the Country?? Are they that crazy??

      • I think it is a mistake to read the crimean invasion as an effort to recreate a russian empire. In fact i think the russians can be taken at their word: this is a limited engagement with the intent of protecting ethnic russian interests in ukraine. No different than the many additional minor simmering conflicts in the balkanized former ussr. Difference is the size of the ukraine. Look at it from their point of view. I don’t see that Russia would gain anything from a total invasion. My guess is there are checks and balances in place that will keep the conflict local. The russians naturally want to keep control over their sphere of influence and hold back european interests. But those interests are primarily economic. As the dip in the financial markets shows, (almost) nobody likes war.

        As for venezuela, the russian statements about a plan to set up military bases in south and central america is hopefully just talk, a threat of tit-for-tat. I certainly hope as much.

        • The russian or rather soviet empire is dead and nothing short of a miracle will set it up again , but there is also a sentiment of sour grapes for Putin as probably for most russians in seeing themselves go from a 1st class FEARED iand RESPECTED nternational power comprising all eastern slav lands to a basically second rate, big but largely broken up piece of what used to be an united country under a strong common authority . Their dream must be to set up a federation of slav countries sharing in a kindred culture and a common supranational project . An obstacle to this dream is the drift of many slavs like those living in Ukrain towards becoming more west europeans in culture , in life style , in manner of life . Putin is an unscrupulous thug, a hard line authoritarian but popular figure with a Cesarian ambition which feeds on russian nostalgia for the old days. If he goes too far he is going to awaken political forces in the US which might change the way they conduct themselves in the international stage turning into a more forceful and assertive presence than it is now.

          • I think a nationalist ambition is accurate. There was the aura of this in the opening and closing acts at sochi, a deluded perception of russians as a great people in a historical struggle. Nothing wrong with a little pride, but i think russians emphasize their uniqueness a bit too much. “Inclusion” just doesn’t seem a word in their vocabulary…

            The USA and other western countries have been quick to condemn the invasion, but i sense they don’t have a lot of options. Definitely not military. I also guess that russian gas is an important piece in this struggle as it has in the past.

          • Still, let’s put things under perspective: Crimea was part of Russia, not Ukraine, between the moment Russia took it away from the Ottomans in the XVIII century until 1954. This does not justify an invasion, but we have to understand Russians feel Crimea is much more linked to them and it was a Soviet leader’s idea that enabled the property transfer…which is kind of crazy, if we think about it (admittedly, approved in a Soviet meeting of Republics, but that was pro forma).
            And indeed, the population is made up of 75% Russians.
            Hard position.

        • Gro,
          I usually find your comments insightful and thought-provoking, but in this case I believe you’ll find that Russia has much to gain by controlling the Crimea. The considerable Crimean shale gas reserves which are scheduled to go into production by 2017 will put an end to Russia’s dominant position as gas supplier to Europe.

  3. The Cuban military/intel presence, in Venezuela, has already craftily violated the constitution. Putin’s cunning move, though, to re-enter the Americas, is just a trade off proposal. In the recent Syrian poison gas turmoil, they each threatened then made the deal. Here, the US stays out of the crisis that Putin instigated in the Ukraine, and then Russia stays out of this hemisphere, for now.

    But, Obama might call Putin’s bluff. The Russians have too many other problems to deal with. This would be a huge over-reach for them. And even if the Russians kept shelling out on their bluff, how could it be worth it to them? Their prestige would remain only amongst the trash of the world.

  4. “…but if there is one thing we learned from it, it’s that countries like ours were treated as roadkill in the bloody games played by higher powers…”

    I don’t think that smaller nations were pawns in the superspower’s chess game, I think that all sorts of lunatics from 3rd world nations took advantage of the unjustified paranoia of the superpowers to get the funding and weapons to conduct their sanguinary quests for power in their exotic nations. In this case is similar, Maduro will take any help he can get to perpetuate chavismo in power wathever the cost, probably the russians will pay a fee to have their troops stationed here as part of his unnecesary and very risky game to recover the good old glory of the URSS, a move that would isolate Venezuela from her main economic partner, the United States

    • “Maduro will take any help he can get to perpetuate chavismo in power wathever the cost, probably the russians will pay a fee to have their troops stationed here”
      I can see this happening,they need the cash, and the constitution whore needs some bangin as well.Also,this definitely offers a chance to polarize even further the venezuelan society,and rally defectors back to camp! Opportunities like this seem to just appear out of nowhere to chavismo.Wonder who’s on the “right side of history”…

  5. Well it’s already happening with the Russian navy port calls in Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba and the Russian Air Force Il-76s and Blackjack visits. The Russian spy ship is hysteria and fear mongering. That boat is a regular visitor and she was in Curacao a month ago. Off course they are watching and listening at the Americans. They listen to all the military and government frequencies and are watching satellite imagery (VRSS-1 and Chinese commercial) of US naval bases on the east coast and military bases such as Ft Bragg and Ft Campbell (airborne bases). They drill for the prophecy! Seriously, it’s worisome and troublesome with no solution in sight.

  6. I wouldn’t worry too much about this one. Putin is making a very weak play here. In a few days, Russia will invade Ukrainian territory to take back the Crimean Peninsula. This territory used to belong to Russia, but was given to Ukraine by 1954 in an internal political game in USSR. Its population is about 60% Russian. More importantly for Russia, Crimea is very important strategically. Whoever controls Crimea, controls the Black Sea. Russia cannot and will not let it fall under the control of NATO forces.

    Putin understands that Russia is going to pay a price for this, in terms of international credibility, but it is a price he is willing to pay. By holding out the threat of establishing bases in Latin America, he is creating a cheap bargaining chip that will be spent in subsequent negotiations. In reality, he has no interest in investing in bases in locations that are so volatile. It would be a foolhardy investment, since Russia’s intelligence analysts can conclude that the Chavista government’s days are numbered just as well as we can.


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