Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov had a discussion over the situation in Venezuela over the phone with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Saturday, 2 March. The conversation, according to TASS, indicated Russia’s readiness for talks regarding its ally, but only if conducted in strict compliance with the United Nations Charter. However, the United States appears to be fanning the flames of the next Russian – US diplomatic row.
Venezuela has become a flashpoint as the socialist government of the country was brought to a state of collapse. At present, the results of the country’s presidential elections are hotly disputed, with the US allying itself behind Juan Guaidó, the rival to incumbent President Nicolás Maduro, who is backed by Russia.
This situation created a new stage for conflict between the interests of the Russian Federation and the United States, with that conflict living on at least two levels:
- According to the Monroe Doctrine, the resolution the US made in the 1820’s to prevent European colonization or intervention in Western nations, the Russian involvement amounts to a breach of trust.
- According to the US press, Venezuela is a socialist cesspool, with Maduro the present instrument of that grief as the hand-picked successor to Hugo Chavez. The country is reportedly in severe economic crisis, even to the point where waves of immigrants are reported to be fleeing Venezuela to the United States in caravans.
What remains unclear, at least from the point of view of the press in both countries, is how much of the Venezuelan crisis was manufactured by US interference at overt and covert levels. As the country is a Russian ally, naturally, this is a concern to the Russian Federation.
Several months ago, the first significant incident calling the Monroe Doctrine into question was the stationing of two Russian supersonic bombers on an island just off the Venezuelan coast.
The results of the presidential elections are presently in dispute. Wikipedia offers this chronology of events (emphases added):
Presidential elections were held in Venezuela on 20 May 2018, with incumbent Nicolás Maduro being re-elected for a second six-year term. Considered a snap election, the original electoral date was scheduled for December 2018 but was subsequently pulled ahead to 22 April before being pushed back to 20 May. Some analysts described the poll as a show election, with the elections having the lowest voter turnout in the country’s democratic era.
Several Venezuelan NGOs, such as Foro Penal Venezolano, Súmate, Voto Joven, the Venezuelan Electoral Observatory and the Citizen Electoral Network, expressed their concern over the irregularities of the electoral schedule, including the lack of the Constituent Assembly‘s competencies to summon the elections, impeding participation of opposition political parties, and the lack of time for standard electoral functions.
Because of this, the European Union, the Organization of American States, the Lima Group and countries including Australia and the United States rejected the electoral process. However, countries including China, South Africa, Cuba, Iran, Egypt, Russia, Syria, Turkey and others recognized the election result.
The two leading candidates opposing Maduro, Henri Falcón and Javier Bertucci, rejected the results, saying that the election was critically flawed by irregularities. Bertucci asked that the elections be repeated without Maduro. Maduro was inaugurated on 10 January 2019. In the days thereafter, Albania, Canada, Iceland, Israel, Kosovo, the United States, and a number of Latin American countries recognized National Assembly Speaker Juan Guaidó as the legitimate Venezuelan President after the start of the 2019 Venezuelan presidential crisis.
The situation here is rather tense, but Russia wished to have discussions with the US authorities provided those discussions were in the spirit of the United Nations Charter, which the US is on record for disregarding time and again as the situation warrants.
TASS reported that FM Lavrov and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo discussed Venezuela over the phone, with the Russian side appearing to express a grievance against the United States’ activity in regard to the Venezuelan nation:
“In connection with Washington’s proposal to hold bilateral consultations on Venezuela, it was pointed out that we were ready for them but only in strict accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter, since only the people of Venezuela have the right to determine their future,” the foreign ministry said.
In his conversation with Pompeo, Lavrov condemned US threats against Venezuela’s legitimate leadership, which represent “undisguised interference in domestic affairs of a sovereign state and a gross violation of international law.”
“Instigation and destructive influence from outside, under the hypocritical pretext of humanitarian aid deliveries, have nothing in common with the democratic process,” the foreign ministry stressed.
This last statement is related to the US effort to send “aid” to Venezuela, ostensibly under the direction of Guaido, to bolster his position as the real leader of the country. However, Nicolas Maduro is on record as having actually won the election. That claim is disputed, with the usual charges that “the election was irregular”, alluding to the notion that it was not valid.
But more took place on March 4th, regarding a series of statements by US foreign policy adviser John Bolton, who invoked the Monroe Doctrine in regards to Venezuela (code for “Russia, keep out of this…”). This move appears to be the diplomatic equivalent of pulling a rabbit out of a hat, and it is not being viewed as a favorable move. In a new report from TASS we learn:
White House National Security Adviser John Bolton’s statement that Washington is not afraid of pursuing the Monroe Doctrine against Venezuela is a slap in the face to the entire Latin American region, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said after talks with his Qatari counterpart Mohammed bin Abdulrahman bin Jassim Al Thani.
Lavrov recalled that after the United Nations was established in 1945, international law has been ensured through the Charter of this universal and the most legitimate organization. “The theory and practice of ‘backyards’ is insulting, to a large extent,” Russia’s top diplomat stressed.
“I believe that Latin American states will react to John Bolton’s statement. He mentioned that the Monroe Doctrine could be used in Venezuela, insulting the entire Latin America,” he noted. “Moreover, several days ago Washington threatened that Venezuela is not the end of the story, and Cuba and Nicaragua would be next.”
Earlier, John Bolton said Washington planned to create a broad coalition to topple Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The White House adviser also said the US was sticking to the principles of the Monroe Doctrine.
The Monroe Doctrine’s applicability here is certainly in question. After all, Soviet-allied activities took place in Central America for decades in Nicaragua, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and other places, (even as American-allied manipulation was in play in Eastern Europe), but now, suddenly a nearly 200-year old statement is pulled into use as the founding principle why the US should have jurisdiction over the nation with the largest known oil reserves in the world?
Venezuela, then is a place with enormous strategic importance, and is therefore a potential flashpoint diplomatically and maybe even worse.
What appears to be unfolding is another page in a regrettably well-known playbook. The geopolitics of oil are in play, and it is highly possible that all the suffering and crisis in Venezuela is not simply the result of socialism, but perhaps socialism plus interference from the outside. What appears to be different this time is that US efforts seem to be a bit more frail than in the past, and it is possible that the United States will not get its way here.
If so, this will be a major blow for the image of power of the US, and how the powers that be there react to this is the next question.