The Venezuelan regime’s support for the Vladimir Putin government amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is a destabilizing factor for Latin America.
“Russia has the full support of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro said, upon receiving Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov at the Miraflores Palace on February 16, 2022. “We have ratified the path of powerful military cooperation between Russia and Venezuela,” he added.
Russia and China are the Venezuelan regime’s main weapon suppliers. According to Rear Admiral (ret.) Carlos Molina Tamayo, former head of Armament for the National Bolivarian Armed Force, who lives in exile in Spain, following his participation in the coup against Hugo Chávez in 2002, Moscow has delivered weapons systems worth more than $15 billion to Venezuela since the 2000s.
In addition, “the Venezuelan NGO Control Ciudadano detailed in 2021 Venezuela’s purchase from Russia of an unspecified quantity of Orlan 10, an unmanned aerial vehicle for reconnaissance operations,” Voice of America said on January 18.
But this connection goes much further. Julio Borges, former foreign envoy for Interim President Juan Guaidó, warned that Maduro and Putin’s goal is to destabilize the region, with the partnership of Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega and Cuba’s Miguel Díaz Canel.
“They have opened the region’s doors for Putin to import a conflict that is not ours, putting hemispheric security at risk. Our region cannot be part of Russia’s international chess game,” Borges said via Twitter on February 24, as Russia launched a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
Days before the invasion of Ukraine, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Riabkov said he could not confirm nor rule out the possibility of sending Russian military assets to Venezuela, Voice of America reported.
Weapons for guerrillas
At present, however, the greater concern is that irregular armed groups could get their hands on light weapon systems Russia delivered to the Venezuelan regime.
According to Molina Tamayo, these weapons range from AK-103 rifles to the Igla-S surface-to-air missile systems. “Chávez’s purchase of AK rifles was in the interest of getting closer to Russia,” he said.
The most serious issue has to do with the Igla-S system. In 2017, Reuters reported that, according to a military document its teams were able to review, the Maduro regime would have some 5,000 Russian-made surface-to-air missiles. Since then, government officials of the region and foreign affairs experts have expressed concerns that these weapons could be slipping out of the regime’s hands and into those of irregular armed groups, such as the National liberation Army, and dissident groups of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.
In February 2019, the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration warned about increasing risk to U.S. civil aviation of flying “into, out of, within or over the territory and airspace of Venezuela,” due to the concern that the regime could lose control some its man portable air defense systems, which could in turn be used by non-state armed actors.
Amid the conflict over the invasion of Ukraine, Molina Tamayo says that Putin’s plan is to cement Venezuela, as well as Cuba and Nicaragua’s, “‘pro-Russian,’ [stance] in order to annoy the United States.”