Daniel R. DePetris: The Political Docket

Russia Is Flexing Its Muscles, Through Its Venezuelan Proxy

Posted in South America/Central America/Western Hemisphere by Dan on August 10, 2009
Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are getting too close for comfort

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are getting too close for comfort

Hot off the press…in a defiant move towards Washington and its power in the Western Hemisphere, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has decided to purchase “several battalions of Russian tanks” by September of this year.  Thanks to the reporting of Joshua Keating, a blogger at the highly-acclaimed ForeignPolicy.com, President Barack Obama and his cabinet may finally realize how challenging it will be to improve American-Venezuelan diplomatic ties.  In more pragmatic language, Mr. Chavez’s continued belligerence towards anything and everything American exposes the Venezuelan leader’s true nature as a two-faced individual:  smiling in front of the cameras and shaking the hand of Mr. Obama while promoting America’s demise behind the scenes.

Joshua Keating’s description of the Venezuelan-Russian arms deal is the best summary I have read thus far:

“We’re going to buy several battalions of Russian tanks,” Chavez said at a news conference, saying the deal is among accords he hopes to conclude during a visit to Russia in September.

Chavez’s government has already bought more than $4 billion worth of Russian arms since 2005, including helicopters, fighter jets and Kalashnikov assault rifles.

The socialist leader called Colombia’s plan to host more U.S. soldiers a “hostile act” and a “true threat” to Venezuela and its leftist allies. He warned that a possible U.S. buildup could lead to the “start of a war in South America,” but gave no indication that Venezuela’s military is mobilizing in preparation for any conflict.

To begin with, any Venezuelan troop deployment against U.S. soldiers stationed in Columbia would not only be politically and militarily irrational…it would have suicidal consequences for Mr. Chavez’s socialist outlook throughout Central and South America.  Nobody in the world can dispute the pervasive ineptitude that has taken root within Venezuela’s military establishment over the past decade.  Ever since Mr. Chavez’s triumphant rise to power in 1998, the country’s armed-forces have been frequently categorized as ill-equipped and technologically-inferior in relation to its “arch enemies” in Latin America (Columbia, Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay).  Such conclusions do not even take into account the fact that Venezuela’s army…the same portion of the political hierarchy that gives Chavez most of his support…is comprised of poorly-trained and amateur soldiers who have yet to be tested in any external conflict (some of whom simply join the ranks for economic reasons as opposed to an ideological belief in the Socialist Dream).  For this reason, more tanks, jets, and helicopters in Caracas should not be of concern to the White House.  As Keating so amply puts it, “bringing a bigger knife to a gun fight doesn’t really shift the odds in your favor.”  With Venezuelan troops already suffering from a lack of morale, destroying Venezuelan resistance will continue to be a relatively easy task for both the U.S. Military and the U.S-trained Columbian Security Forces.

What should worry Mr. Obama and his foreign-policy team is the Venezuelan-Russian relationship…an alliance that has exponentially increased over the past few years.  Unlike Venezuela’s status in the international community, the Kremlin under Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev possesses an inherent ability to frustrate the United States in a variety of foreign-policy arenas.  Russia is a primary supporter and builder of Iran’s nuclear program: the same “civilian project” that poses an existential threat to Washington, Jerusalem, and Western Europe in the Middle East.  In addition, Moscow continues to block any attempt by the United Nation’s Security Council to impose harsher sanctions on Iranian noncompliance…consistently vetoing a string of economic punishments that could drastically diminish the Islamic Republic’s unity and fortitude.

Diplomatically, Russia is still skeptical in advancing a partnership with its European neighbors: either due to Putin’s paranoia towards Western European values or for the fear of a possible European resurgence at the expense of a Russian decline.  Poland, one of America’s most trusted friends on the European continent, continues to view the Russians with hostility.  And of course, the military campaign in Georgia last summer by the Kremlin’s war-machine certainly did not help appease the sentiments of western nations of a Moscow undergoing a peaceful transition from authoritarian politics.

For all of these reasons, particularly in the security realm of foreign-policy, the United States should be questioning the expansion of the Venezuelan-Russian connection.  While the Cold War has been over for close to two decades, and while the U.S. and Russia have made tremendous improvements in diplomatic relations over the past eighteen years, the U.S.-Russian rivalry continues to linger on the backburner both practically and symbolically.  Casting aside Chavez’s unwavering desire to oppose and demean Washington’s policies in all its forms, his relationship with Moscow does indeed pose a gathering threat for the United States in the politically-sensitive Latin American region.  With Prime Minister Putin and President Medvedev already intent on renovating the former Soviet empire, an authoritarian Russia spreading its wings in America’s backyard may not be the best situation for the young Commander-in-Chief.

-Daniel R. DePetris

-Information from Joshua Keating of Foreign Policy contributed to this blog.  His full article can be accessed at: http://blog.foreignpolicy.com/posts/2009/08/06/what_does_hugo_chavez_really_want_all_those_tanks_for.


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