A Fact of Life: Strategic Alliance for Venezuela and Russia

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez met on July 22 in Moscow with his Russian counterparts President Dimitri Medvédev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. They seemed to enjoy every moment of the occasion, even though it was rather short when it came to hard developments. The encounter was arranged to formalize a military and defense alliance between the two countries, dubbed the “Alianza Estratégica.” The three leaders placed great stress on the importance of the meeting in which trade deals, arms sales, coordinated energy policies and the expansion of trade and joint financial services were achieved between the two nations.

By 2007, bilateral trade between Russia and Venezuela had reached 1 billion dollars and is now likely to expand exponentially. The Russian and Venezuelan leaders carried out negotiations for the acquisition of a large number of army tanks, which are viewed by the Venezuelan high command as being indispensable to the modernization of the country’s armed forces. Some Washington insiders believe that Caracas might be considering the purchase of the first of what could be several Russian submarines, as well as a number of AN-74 military transport aircrafts, while at the same time continuing with talks about importing a Kalashnikov rapid firing weapons’ assembly factory scheduled to be put into operation in Venezuela.

Moscow’s Challenge to the U.S.
What Washington has to fear is not so much Moscow’s projected arms sales to Venezuela, but that an increasingly sharp-tongued Russia is now planning to give as much as it receives to the U.S. Russia intends to show the U.S. their discontent over Washington desires to build a missile shield in Poland and the Bush administration’s encouragement to Georgia and the Ukraine to sign up with NATO. Meanwhile, Moscow can be expected to express concern for Venezuelan sovereignty and solidarity with Chávez and his populist, nationalist cause, in terms very similar to the bellicose foreign policy being undertaken by the Medvédev-Putin government towards Washington. Furthermore, the Bush administration must realize that it is probably viewing the first round in Russia’s notable reemergence in Latin American political and economic affairs, but this time its policy is fueled not so much by soviet ideology as by a relentless quest for natural resources, and that Moscow is prepared to direct at Washington’s expense, heavy assets as well as the time and attention necessary to elevate its geopolitical silhouette in the region.

Venezuelan-Russian Relationship Thickens
Since 2006, Venezuela and Russia have engaged in arms transactions including Kalishnikov assault rifles, Sukhoi fighter jets and a fleet of helicopters, generating mounting apprehension in Washington. Another tie between both countries has been the constant flow of military and technical personnel, offering and receiving specialized training, such as Russian technicians flying into Venezuela to instruct local mechanics, as well as assigning flight instructors to train Venezuelan pilots so taht they can operate recently acquired equipment.

The military relationship established between Venezuela and Russia raises questions concerning Chávez’s goal of achieving peace throughout Latin America, while he remains quite agitated over what he considers to be Washington’s hostile intentions towards his left-leaning government. The consolidation of the country’s military forces is being pursued relentlessly by Venezuela’s high command, and the process plays an important role in the Venezuelan president’s aspiration to spearhead the regional integration movement of like-minded societies, now being witnessed throughout northern South America.

The Implications of Moscow’s Parachuting into Latin American Diplomacy
The international community has been paying close attention to Chávez’s visit to Russia and Moscow’s impact on Venezuela’s future geopolitical capabilities and ambitions. In addition, the geopolitical situation between these two countries illustrates how Russian relations with Latin America are becoming more important by the day, not only because of its arms sales throughout in the region, but also due to the aggressive “resource diplomacy” that Moscow has been undertaking throughout South America. The continuing chilly relationship between Venezuela and the United States, along with Washington’s increasingly frosting relationship with Moscow, almost certainly will continue to contribute to the substantial strengthening of military and diplomatic connections between Russia and Venezuela. This prospect cannot possibly make the U.S. very happy.

The new fact of life facing Washington is that Russia will be a growing factor when it comes to relating to the left leaning governments in the region, who are seeking autonomy from U.S. policy makers, which Washington is sure to deem dangerous, but which Moscow considers just fine.