Wednesday, January 08, 2020

Trump, Putin, and Venezuela

I tend to disagree with the Washington Post Editorial Board about Venezuela, as it is too hawkish for my taste. However, I do agree with their assessment yesterday:
With Moscow behind him, Mr. Maduro will likely seek to stage new, rigged elections for the National Assembly, using as cover former opposition legislators the regime has bought with reported payments of hundreds of thousands of dollars. The regime of Vladimir Putin will be rewarded with a new client state in the Western hemisphere, along with nearly exclusive access to some of the world’s largest oil reserves. 
This would be a stinging defeat for President Trump, who has made the restoration of democracy in Venezuela one of his signature goals. How to prevent such a defeat? Military action, which Mr. Trump has sometimes hinted at, is not a realistic option. But Mr. Trump could impose a cost on Russia for its meddling, such as by increasing sanctions on the state oil company Rosneft for its Venezuelan oil trafficking. The coming months may tell whether Mr. Trump values regime change in Venezuela more than his affinity for Mr. Putin.
Well, mostly agree. I don't think it's accurate to say democratization is a "signature goal" for Trump. 

But this highlights an important point about U.S. foreign policy options. If invasion has truly been eliminated, what else is there besides more sanctions? The answer is pressure on Russia, and Trump's consistent pattern of accepting Putin's view of international affairs offers little optimism.

If you recall from back in May 2019:
“I had a very good talk with President Putin — probably over an hour,” Trump began. “And we talked about many things. Venezuela was one of the topics. And he is not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he’d like to see something positive happen for Venezuela. And I feel the same way. We want to get some humanitarian aid."
Putin lied to him and he repeated the obvious lie uncritically. Since then, Russia has rapidly deepened its relationship with Venezuela. It is, as TeleSur puts it, two allies against U.S. regional hegemony.

It means Putin is now indispensable to the Maduro government. At a minimum, perhaps the international community could convince Russia to allow free and fair elections.


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