Venezuela crisis exposes new fault line in US-Russia rivalry
PARIS, Jan 30, 2019 (BSS/AFP) – The crisis in Venezuela has triggered fresh
tensions between Washington and Moscow, with chilly exchanges at the United
Nations, but analysts warn against the temptation of seeing the return of
Cold War-style divisions.
Since Venezuelan parliament leader Juan Guaido declared himself president
on January 23 to challenge leader Nicolas Maduro, the rivalry between the US
and Russia has returned with a vengeance.
Washington, as well as Europe and most of Latin America, has backed
Guaido, while Russia, joined by China, has denounced US pressure and insisted
that its ally Maduro is the only legitimate head of state.
“There’s a Cold War atmosphere,” says Thomas Posado, an expert in foreign
relations at the Paris VIII university in France, but “it’s a lot less
“What is particular about the Venezuelan crisis is that there are very
contemporary economic interests at stake, linked to how Venezuela’s debt is
going to be reimbursed, and to whom,” he added.
Russia and China have become the biggest lenders to Venezuela in recent
years and the largest foreign investors in the country’s oil sector, which
sits on the largest deposit of proven crude reserves in the world.
The US has its own interests to protect in the country as the single
biggest buyer of Venezuelan oil.
“It’s not the Cold War, it’s not old-style American anti-Communist policy
because there isn’t any Communism anymore,” said Richard Lapper, a Latin
American expert from the Chatham House think-tank in Britain.
Venezuela is just the latest in a succession of international crises on
which Russia and the US have found themselves on opposite sides.
“You can’t talk about there being some ideological divide like a new Cold
War because you can’t consider that Russia and China form a bloc” against the
West, said Isabelle Facon from the France-based Foundation of Strategic
She said Moscow and Beijing have grown wary of US and European foreign
interventions after their decisions to help topple the governments of Iraq in
2003 and Libya in 2011.
“They are very close in their criticism of what they see as the propensity
of the United States and Europe to intervene and bring about regime change,”
The West, meanwhile, sees Russia as an increasingly aggressive power after
its military interventions in Georgia in 2008, Ukraine in 2014 and Syria in
2015, while China rapidly expands its global influence.
– Splintering ‘Western bloc’ –
Analysts also say that the unilateralist foreign policy choices of
President Donald Trump have fractured the traditional Western alliance
between the US and Europe, perhaps to the worst degree since World War II.
This means the Cold War-idea of a unified “Western bloc” has become
obsolete, while the European Union itself is divided on how to respond to the
At this stage, the EU looks unlikely to follow Washington in imposing
additional sanctions against Caracas.
“I think it’s a very high-risk strategy which the US and the Latin
American countries are embarked on. You don’t normally appoint an alternative
government,” Lapper said. “You assume that it’s not going to last very long.”
“The problem at the moment is that there’s no sign yet of the high command
of the armed forces in Venezuela ending their support for Maduro,” he added.
“And there’s no sign that Russia and China will not support him.”
Lapper sees the role of China as critical in Venezuela and many other
Latin American countries, which is a major change from the Cold War-era.
“One thing that’s changed over the past few years is that Chinese policy
in the region, rather than being accommodative, has begun to become more
aggressive,” Lapper said.
“They’re looking to shape things in Latin America as in the rest of the
world. China’s now the biggest trading partner for very many Latin American
countries, and a very big source of investment.”