Following sanctions and aggressive diplomacy, Donald Trump tried to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, refusing to recognise his presidency and instead backing leader of the Citizens Assembly Juan Guaido as the President. But Maduro has been backed by allies of his own, with Russia and China propping up his administration with generous loans and huge weapons exchanges attempting to deter the US from interference. Now Russian weapons are in Caracas – Sukhoi 30 jets – reminiscent of Russia’s presence in Cuba in the Sixties when war was at one point an imminent prospect. Trump’s strongman act was not backed up by a willingness to intervene physically in Venezuela, a bluff that Maduro saw right through according to Phil Gunson, an expert and analyst on Venezuela who works for International Crisis Group in Caracas.
He told Express.co.uk: “Well I certainly think aspects of US policy has been counter-productive in terms of finding a solution, I think the US should have been clearer from the beginning that this would be a case of negotiation rather than simply forcing Maduro from power which is what they’ve tried from the beginning.
“They clearly weren’t able to do that, their strong hints that they were prepared to act with the military were bluffs, I don’t think Trump is keen on military interference anywhere, and the Venezuelan government saw through that.”
The consequence of this Caracas-Washington standoff is increased control for Putin on Trump’s doorstep, and in an area where influence is key.
Russia and China’s generosity towards Maduro’s regime have differing motives according to Gunson, who says China’s presence is purely economically inspired.
However, he believes Putin likes the idea of having a presence in Latin America as a one-up on Trump in the region.
Putin and Trump are grappling for control in Latin America
Guaido declared himself president, and was backed by Trump
He continued: “Both Russia and China aren’t exactly great admirers of the Maduro regime. Russia sold a lot of weapons to Venezuela. Compared with China, Russia are a more opportunistic partner.
“Russia made profit from the weapon loans, Venezuela is a good place for shady characters to operate. But there is also this geopolitical point of view for Putin, it’s very clear that Putin likes the idea of having a presence in the Western hemisphere.
“Russia can now pose as a superpower, Russia will be looking to leverage its position in Venezuela vis a vis the US, it’s the possibly of making life harder for US in its own backyard that’s key.”
The presence of Russian weapons in Caracas is reminiscent of the Soviet Union’s military base in Cuba during the Sixties.
As Cold War tensions grew between the Soviet Union and the US, Cuba, a socialist authoritarian state, was the setting of a near nuclear fallout between the two countries.
Putin has placed Russian weapons in Maduro’s Venezuela
Trump is now in deadlock as Maduro remains President.
The US tried to oust Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who went to the Soviets for help, gaining weapons in the process.
President John F Kennedy demanded the removal of the missiles from Cuba, with the Soviets claiming the blockade stopping the transfer of weapons to Havana was an “act of war”.
The refusal of one Soviet officer to instigate strikes, after a US signaller was misconstrued for an attack on a Soviet submarine, saved the world from a potentially disastrous nuclear exchange.
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Kennedy and Castro were leaders of the US and Cuba during the crisis
The countries eventually came to an agreement that saw missiles removed from Turkey and Italy whilst the US promised to not invade Cuba again.
It is highly unlikely this situation would be repeated in Venezuela, but it is clear tensions remain high ahead of the UN General Assembly tomorrow where world leaders will all convene.
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