In mid-January, we were discussing how Russia was dragging Venezuela into what we considered a Cold War-like trolling campaign against the US and its allies. Putin’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that they didn’t rule out the possibility of sending military assets to Cuba and Venezuela if the talks regarding Ukraine failed. Oh, well. They failed, and the trolling campaign got out of hand (or it never was intended to be just a trolling campaign). This has just become especially relevant since Maduro just announced his full support to Putin in the “defense of Russia’s peace:”
— Monitoreamos (@monitoreamos) February 22, 2022
In any case, we reached out to Russia/Venezuela expert Andrei Serbin Pont so he could help us make sense of what’s going on in Ukraine and how does it affect us.
First, what’s Russia’s plan?
Serbin Pont: The best explanation for what Russia and Vladimir Putin want to do with Ukraine and the rest of the former Soviet orbit is what the Russian Security Council heard from Putin yesterday, some historical, cultural arguments about how Russia sees its surroundings and Ukraine in particular. Putin insisted that Ukraine is a country invented by the USSR that attempts against the unity of Slavic culture and that, by all means, Ukraine must be aligned with Russia. Strategically, Putin sees Ukraine as a buffer space to defend Russia and now alleges Ukraine is a failed state with human rights violations and weapons of mass destruction—an argument used by others to invade other places—but it’s important we consider the cultural arguments as well, part of the construction of national identity that Putin is involved in. For him, a Ukraine that opposes Russia is unacceptable. They will even use the language of “responsibility to protect,” as in Georgia and Crimea, to justify a military intervention to “protect” the ethnic Russians in Ukraine.
What could we expect?
Serbin Pont: Sooner rather than later, we must worry about Russia’s military deployment—which is huge and can’t be fortuitous. There’s a reason for the deployment of 75% of special forces on the border of Ukraine. But Putin is planning something way bigger than protecting those separatist territories because, for Moscow, the real problem is the Ukrainian government’s closeness to the West. On the other hand, NATO has limited options to move forward and it won’t contribute to escalating a direct conflict with Russia, and sanctions won’t stop Putin. But NATO will have to increase its military presence to dissuade future Russian actions if, for instance, Russia decides to act on the Baltic states (why not?).
Regarding China, this will show how complex its relationship with Russia is. I think that Beijing will be very cautious about it. I don’t share the prediction that China is acting in coordination with what Russia is doing in Ukraine and will put more pressure on Taiwan, for instance.
And this is a message for Belarus: don’t dare to take the road to democracy that Ukraine took in 2014.
Serbin Pont: Yes. As another message was sent to Kazakhstan as soon as it showed a risk of collapse some weeks ago: Russia sent troops to help restore order. Putin was very explicit in condemning states that left the Russian orbit.
How would you describe the nature and magnitude of the military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela?
Serbin Pont: Venezuela is a useful partner. The Maduro regime pays for the equipment and assistance it gets from Russia, which also has interests in the energy industry in Venezuela. Venezuela is a cheap way of having some sort of Russian military presence far from Eastern Europe and the Caucasus and this annoys the U.S. Venezuela and Cuba might be tokens in a future negotiation with the U.S. However, there are no proper Russian bases in Venezuela, and beyond the possible interest, it would be too difficult to install a Russian Navy base in a Venezuelan island such as La Orchila. It’s true that there’s a Russian presence, in high-tech equipment, electronic reconnaissance, and special forces, in Apure. We’ve all seen it. There’s Russian influence in the Venezuelan Armed Forces (FANB) and a contribution to the increase of FANB operational preparedness. That’s a source of preoccupation and we need to watch how the old tensions in the Venezuela-Colombia border acquire another layer because of the involvement of an actor entangled in a global conflict.
How could Russia charge Venezuela and other countries, such as Argentina, for drones and the Sputnik vaccines in this new situation?
Serbin Pont: I think that the government of Alberto Fernández in Argentina will be cautious this time, because, according to Argentina’s foreign affairs doctrine, this is a State occupying someone else’s territory, just like the United Kingdom did in the Malvinas islands. By supporting Russia, Argentina would be shooting its own foot. This is an uncomfortable place for the Fernández government and it’s likely to discreetly step aside in the foreign arena on this.
You can listen to the full conversation in Spanish here:
— Cinco8 (@_cinco8) February 22, 2022
We’ll be discussing intel regarding this matter in our upcoming Political Risk Report. You can subscribe here.
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