The Russia-Venezuela relationship is long-standing. Vladimir Putin and former Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez tightened ties that current President Nicolás Maduro has maintained, and his ‘Chavista’ administration continues to stand by its ally despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the two countries’ relations cemented by some 20 bilateral agreements.
When Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Maduro, who had already expressed his support to his Russian counterpart, took more than 12 hours to issue a statement, calling for peace and dialogue between the two sides, while analysts said Venezuela should have taken a more cautious stance towards the conflict.
The close relationship between the two countries has however given Venezuela a greater relevance on the global geopolitical map and which, even after the invasion of Ukraine and the subsequent sanctions imposed on Russia by Western countries, has also led to a new rapprochement between the United States and Venezuela, and which included an offer by Washington to lift sanctions and move toward achieving possible agreements on energy matters.
Although Venezuela saw an opportunity in the rapprochement, it did not simultaneously distance itself from Moscow. From the resumption of tourist agreements, with the arrival of Russian citizens to Margarita Island, which had been suspended due to air travel restrictions, to the forthcoming inclusion of Venezuela in the Russian Mir payment system, the two governments continue to strengthen their ties.
The reactivation of charter flights between Russia and Venezuela took place with the participation of Venezuelan airline Conviasa, on which the U.S. has imposed sanctions in 2020, allowing for the wave of Russian tourist arrivals to resume.
“We are a country of peace that strengthens the ties of friendship and love with our brother countries, from the perspective of sustainable tourism,” Venezuelan Minister of Tourism Alí Padrón said during the recent International Travel and Tourism Fair (MITT) in Moscow earlier this month.
Further unity came with the decision to allow Venezuela’s possible inclusion in the Mir system, a Russian payment system for electronic fund transfers, according to Russia’s ambassador in Caracas, Sergey Melik-Bagdasarov.
“The connection of Venezuela with the Mir payment system and the possibility of using cards of this type here would be useful in terms of serving the tourism industry (...) The two sides are working on steps in this direction, but it is still premature to talk about concrete terms,” the diplomat said.
The agreement would follow Russia’s disconnection from the SWIFT interbank transfer system.
Cooperation between the two nations had strengthened a month before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, with the establishment of more than 20 agreements through the Venezuela-Russia high-level intergovernmental commission. Although there are few public details about each agreement, they likely address trade, energy and financial aspects of the relationship, as well as in the educational, cultural and military fields.
The repayment of Venezuela’s debt with Russia, which amounts to $3 billion, has ceased to be a priority, especially as Moscow has acknowledged that the Maduro regime has been making timely payments.
But is is the military field that cooperation has come to dominate bilateral relations.
“We have ratified the path of powerful military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela for the defense of peace, sovereignty and territorial integrity”, Maduro said during a ceremony at Miraflores Palace shortly before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, words which were echoed by Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Yuri Borisov, when he assured that Venezuela is a strategic partner for Russia in Latin America.
The establishment of a Kalashnikov rifle production plant in Venezuela, signed in 2001 and slowed down by corruption scandals, is one of the more high-profile aspects of the military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela, and the plant could finally begin operations this year, according to the spokesperson of the Russian Federal Service for Military and Technical Cooperation, Valeria Reshetnikova.
In recent years, Russia has left a very clear mark on Venezuela in terms of its military presence in the South American country. And although Caracas has been cagey about the alleged deployment of Russian radars on Venezuela’s borders, in places such as Zulia, Táchira, Apure and Falcón, intelligence sources in Colombia recently confirmed their presence.
And Cristopher Figuera, a former director of the Venezuelan Bolivarian Intelligence Service, recently referred to two Russian military bases in Venezuela, despite it not having been confirmed by the Maduro or Putin administrations, are an indication of what could be to come.
Russia’s military assistance in Venezuela has not gone unnoticed, and neither has it been concealed.
In 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov reaffirmed Moscow’s commitment to supply new batches of weapons to Venezuela, according to the requirements and needs of the Venezuelan Armed Forces.
During the Hugo Chávez era (1999-2013), Venezuela was equipped with Russian anti-aircraft missile equipment, such as S-300s and Russian Su-30Mk2 fighter jets.
For some analysts, Maduro’s strategy has been seen as using its relationship with Russia as a bargaining tool with Washington as the war in Ukraine rages.
Translated from the Spanish by Adam Critchley