Now Russia and China are helping Maduro militarize the Colombian border.
Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov warned in a Jan. 13 television interview that his government wouldn’t rule out the deployment of “military assets” to Venezuela and Cuba if the U.S. continues to defend Ukrainian sovereignty. White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan dismissed the comment as “bluster.”
Pundits—responding as the Kremlin no doubt had hoped—briefly suggested the risk of a 1962 Cuban missile crisis redux. That was dumb, and Mr. Sullivan was right to treat the remark as a distraction.
Yet if the Biden administration meant to suggest that there’s no reason to worry about Russian aggression in the Western Hemisphere, it isn’t being straight with the American people. Russia has slowly been sinking its teeth into the region for decades and the West has said nothing. So has China. The issue deserves more attention.
Russia lacks the resources for a ground war in Latin America. Its Tupolev Tu-160 bombers can carry both conventional and nuclear missiles. Every five years since 2008 Russia has deployed two of those supersonic jets on brief missions to Venezuela. But Mr. Putin knows that neither he nor his proxies would last long in a conventional showdown with the U.S. in the region.
Instead, Russia and China are waging hybrid warfare using high-end military intelligence systems and equipment in the hands of irregular actors, including private contractors and criminal groups. Russia supplies weapons and manpower, while China provides the more sophisticated military technology. It isn’t unlike the strategy employed to undermine the West in Ukraine and Syria.
Russia plays a key role in the survival of the highly unpopular Venezuelan and Cuban military dictatorships. As retired Venezuelan army Lt. Col. José Gustavo Arocha pointed out in the December issue of the online Defense Dossier, “Over his 14-year tenure, [Hugo] Chávez visited Russia nine times and China six, in the process establishing a security and defense alliance that the Maduro regime maintains to this day.”
Mr. Arocha—a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society—notes that over 20 years Venezuela has bought more than $11.4 billion in Russian military equipment and weapons. This includes “fighter jets, attack and transport helicopters, air defense and naval platforms, tanks, armored personnel carriers (APC), self-propelled artillery, and various small arms to include surface-to-air-missiles.”https://bc8221413f77c0bd098fd5988159fe8c.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
A Jan. 25, 2019, Reuters report cited named and unnamed sources claiming that Russian private military contractors were sent to Venezuela to help dictator Nicolás Maduro hold onto power. A Kremlin spokesman told Reuters that Russia had “no such information.”
But Reuters cited flight-tracking data that Russian military transport and cargo aircraft traveled from Russia to Caracas in December 2018. The news outlet reported Yevgeny Shabayev, whom it described as “leader of a local chapter of a paramilitary group of Cossacks with ties to Russian military contractors,” said that some of the Russian mercenaries traveled to Venezuela via Cuba. Reuters identified civilian aircraft, “owned by a division of the Russian presidential administration,” that arrived in Havana in January 2019 “via Senegal and Paraguay.”
Trained and armed to run repressive police states, Venezuela and Cuba—and Nicaragua—are now safely in the Russia-China column. But enemies of Western civilization want more. Colombia is next on their agenda.
The country is highly vulnerable because of the corrupting influence of drug-trafficking organizations and Cuba’s infiltration of Colombian institutions, civil society, business, media and academia. The 2016 Obama-backed surrender of the government to the criminal group FARC—dubbed a “peace” agreement—has exacerbated the instability.
Russia and China are now moving in for the kill. In December 2020 Semana magazine reported that Colombia expelled two Russian diplomats for spying. But Kremlin espionage is the least of the problems fostered by Vladimir Putin in Colombia.
Organized-crime groups are engaged in a bloody conflict on the Colombia-Venezuela border. One of those groups, headed by a negotiator of the 2016 Obama-FARC deal, is an ally of Mr. Maduro, whose government is itself implicated in drug trafficking. In a Jan. 19 YouTube video from Colombia’s Arauca River, Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, explains that the warring last year between Mr. Maduro’s FARC friends and the FARC’s 10th Front was likely window dressing for a larger geopolitical goal.
It provided Venezuela an excuse to militarize the border, bringing in Chinese-made combat planes and Russian-made reconnaissance drones. Framing Venezuela as an opponent of the illegal armed groups, Mr. Maduro and Russia now run a disinformation campaign to establish moral equivalency between the Colombian democracy and the Venezuelan dictatorship.
If the former M-19 guerrilla Gustavo Petro wins Colombia’s presidential election in May, the stage will be set to turn what was once one of the U.S.’s most reliable allies into a Russian proxy. All without firing a shot.
Write to O’Grady@wsj.com.
Mary Anastasia O’Grady is an Opinion Columnist, writes “The Americas,” a weekly column on politics, economics and business in Latin America and Canada that appears every Monday in the Journal. Ms. O’Grady joined the paper in August 1995 and became a senior editorial page writer in December 1999. She was appointed an editorial board member in November 2005. She is also a member of the board of directors of the Indianapolis-based Liberty Fund.
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), on January 31, 2022. All comments posted and published on Petroleumworld, do not reflect either for or against the opinion expressed in the comment as an endorsement of Petroleumworld.
Use Notice: This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of issues of environmental and humanitarian significance. We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107. For more information go to: http://www.law.cornell.edu/uscode/17/107.shtml.
EnergiesNet.com 01 31 2022