Russian aircraft land in Venezuela with soldiers and military equipment, which further complicates the crisis citizens face.
About 100 Russian service members arrived at Simón Bolívar International Airport in Maiquetía, Venezuela, March 23, with 35 tons of unknown cargo in two Russian Air Force aircraft. The military deployment could create a worrisome scenario, prolong the severe political, social, and economic crisis in the country, and endanger regional stability. Meanwhile, Nicolás Maduro uses humanitarian assistance as a domination strategy.
“The Russian aircraft that landed on March 23  with Russian officers and tons of equipment will remain in the country for as long as necessary,” Yván Gil, Venezuelan vice minister for Europe, told the press. “New military missions might arrive, according to the agreements signed between both countries [in 2011].”
William Dávila, a Venezuelan congressman and member of the National Assembly’s Foreign Policy Committee, told the press that the Russian aircraft’s surprise deployment violates the Venezuelan Constitution, as the Assembly hadn’t authorized it. The Kremlin responded that bilateral military-technical cooperation agreements both countries signed in 2001 regulate the Russian presence.
“In our opinion, one of the things the Russians are doing there is to help the authorities with the S-300 systems that have suffered from the blackouts,” Elliott Abrams, U.S. Department of State special representative for Venezuela, told the press. The Venezuelan government received the S-300, an air defense system, in 2013.
“With the help of Moscow, Maduro’s dictatorship built an air shield in the Atlantic area and near Caracas, where the National Bolivarian Armed Force has eight brigades with S-300VM missiles, capable of intercepting all kinds of targets,” Daniel Pou, associate researcher at the Latin American Social Sciences Institute in the Dominican Republic, told Diálogo. “The missiles’ update seeks to instill fear among Venezuelans, perpetuate the country’s economic crisis, and endanger regional stability.”
The missiles were stored and their components had never been refurbished. “Maduro needs the Russians to dig them out and put them in operation,” Pou said. “Russian officers are working on the electronic wireless communications system of these long-range weapons, because they are outdated.”
From bad to worse
“Moscow is clearly saying that they will go all in. The Russian presence with aircraft and troops shows that they will do whatever it takes to stay,” Luis Alberto Gabriel Somoza, professor of security and defense at the University of Buenos Aires, Argentina, told Diálogo. “Venezuela might be the setting for the resurgence of a new [armed] conflict.”
The worsening situation of the Venezuelan population, with people already living below the poverty line, is among the consequences of growing Russian militarization. “The Venezuelan crisis is a tragedy that might get worse due to the latest events,” Somoza said.
Despite the collapse of food and health infrastructures in Venezuela, Maduro rejects humanitarian assistance from countries of the free world. “The humanitarian assistance is a show to humiliate us,” Maduro told the press on February 8. Days later, however, he said, “Russian humanitarian assistance arrives on Wednesday [February 20].”
“Maduro insists on finding fictitious rivals. He promotes this view to rally all Venezuelans together against an alleged international threat,” Javier Oliva Posadas, armed forces specialist and professor at the National Autonomous University of Mexico, told Diálogo.
Ana Rosario Contreras, president of the Capital District College of Nursing in Caracas, told the press that Russian help never made it to hospitals. It was not until April 16, after months of negotiations, that the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies succeeded in bringing a shipment of humanitarian aid with medications, which started to be distributed among the country’s health centers.
This is the result of the upsurge of 21st century socialism in some Latin American countries, leading populist regimes to take advantage of democratic instruments to modify their constitutions and hold on to power. “Countries of the region should adopt a clearer, more categorical stance regarding their level of tolerance for the presence of transcontinental countries [Russia and China] that set up in our continent because many leftist governments helped them, creating an unstable scenario,” Somoza said.
In March 2018, Dr. R. Evans Ellis, research professor of Latin American Studies at the U.S. Army War College Strategic Studies Institute, said in his article “The Collapse of Venezuela and Its Impact on the Region”, published in Military Review, that Venezuela had three possible scenarios, “all negative,” if Maduro remains in power: (1) resistance burnout and consolidation of the criminal state, (2) escalating violence resolved by imposition of a pseudodemocratic compromise regime, (3) prolonged criminality, repression, and insurgency. In this last scenario, Russia and China take a wait and see position.
According to the article, every scenario implies an increase in the already dramatic exodus of refugees to neighboring countries and the rest of the region, as well as in weapons imports, and a greater impact on the political and criminal landscape. “As Russian weapons, aircraft, technology, and even more military personnel arrive in Caracas, tension will escalate, and scenarios or forecasts will become more ominous,” Oliva said. “Latin America is on its way to a new kind of cold war,” Somoza concluded.