Russia is playing a high-stakes game in the mounting crisis in Venezuela, where socialist President Nicolas Maduro has been mortgaging part of the country’s oil resources in exchange for financial and military support from Moscow.
Latin America is far from Russia, and Venezuela is impoverished, surrounded by hostile neighbors and squarely in the crosshairs of the Trump administration. But for a variety of reasons, the government of President Vladimir Putin sees in Caracas an ally worth cultivating.
The Kremlin has managed to maintain a decades-long relationship with Cuba’s communist regime, whose intelligence services have worked closely with Russian advisers to make inroads into Venezuela’s military and its reserve-rich oil sector. The U.S. estimates Russia’s total investment in Venezuela to be $30 billion.
Under anti-U.S. populist leader Hugo Chavez, Mr. Maduro’s late predecessor and political mentor, Russia became one of Venezuela’s strongest allies with economic ties including crude oil, loans and arms sales.
That helps explain why Moscow has emerged as one of Mr. Maduro’s most vocal defenders and one of the biggest critics of the pressure campaign waged by Washington and a number of countries in Latin America.
The pressure grew Monday as France, Germany, Britain and 13 other European countries announced that they were withdrawing their recognition of Mr. Maduro and called for new national elections as soon as possible. The EU powers held off in joining the U.S. pressure campaign to see whether Venezuela would agree to new elections.
“We are working for the return of full democracy in Venezuela: human rights, elections and no more political prisoners,” Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told reporters in Madrid on Monday.
But Russia shows no signs of abandoning its increasingly beleaguered and isolated ally.
Mr. Putin has called Mr. Maduro to relay his support for the regime, and Russian officials reacted angrily to President Trump’s suggestion Sunday that U.S. military action was an option to resolve the crisis.