Russia and key allies vow to stand by Maduro in Venezuela crisis
Key allies of Venezuela’s president, Nicolás Maduro, led by Russia and China, have warned the US not to stage an “external intervention” in support of the opposition leader Juan Guaidó’s bid to lead the country.
Russia issued a strong declaration of support for Maduro’s government on Thursday, saying that a US military intervention in Venezuela would be “catastrophic”.
“We warn against that,” said the deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov, in remarks published by a ministry publication and later echoed in a ministry communique. “We believe it would be a catastrophic scenario to shake the foundation of the development model we have been observing in the region of Latin America.”
Ryabkov said Russia “supports our strategic partner, friendly Venezuela, and will support it”.
Russia is an important provider of financial support to the Venezuelan government, providing billions of dollars in loans, some as pre-payment for future deliveries of oil.
In December, Russia dispatched two nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to the country in a further show of support.
Russia has said it is ready to facilitate talks among political forces in Venezuela. “We will stand, if you’d like, together with this country in defence of sovereignty, in defence of the inadmissibility of encroaching on the principle of nonintervention in internal affairs,” Ryabkov said.
The Kremlin, which ultimately decides Russia’s foreign policy, has not yet commented on the crisis. But other members of the Russian establishment have spoken out in support of Maduro. Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of Russia’s lower house of parliament, called Guaidó’s claim to the presidency “illegal.”
Franz Klintsevich, a senator and retired colonel, said Moscow could wind up its military cooperation with Venezuela if Maduro, who he said was the legitimately elected president, was ousted.
Other MPs criticised US actions against Maduro. “The US is trying to carry out an operation to organise the next ‘colour revolution’ in Venezuela,” said Andrei Klimov, deputy chair of the foreign affairs committee of the upper house of parliament, using a term for the popular uprisings that unseated leaders in Georgia, Ukraine and Kyrgyzstan.
China said on Thursday that it supported the Venezuelan government’s efforts in preserving the country’s sovereignty, independence and stability.
“China supports efforts made by the Venezuelan government to protect the country’s sovereignty, independence and stability,” Hua Chunying, a spokeswoman for ministry of foreign affairs, told a regular briefing in Beijing.
“I want to emphasise that outside sanctions or interference usually make the situation more complicated and are not helpful to resolving the actual problems.”
Venezuela has been one of Beijing’s closest allies in Latin America, and the largest recipient of Chinese financing, taking as much as £38bn in loans by 2017. China is Venezuela’s largest creditor, prompting concerns that as Venezuela’s economy spirals, state assets could fall into Chinese hands, as was the case with Sri Lanka’s Hambantota port.
It is in Beijing’s interest to support Maduro, given that a new government could refuse to honour Venezuela’s debt obligations to China. Maduro met China’s president, Xi Jinping, last year and toured Mao Zedong’s mausoleum in Beijing, and the countries agreed on £3.8bn in loans and more than 20 bilateral agreements.
Recep Tayyip Erdoğan phoned Maduro and offered his support, a spokesman for the Turkish president said on Thursday. “Our president extended Turkey’s support to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro and said: ‘My brother Maduro! Stand tall, we stand by you!’” İbrahim Kalın said on Twitter.
Turkey’s foreign minister issued a warning about Guaidó’s declaration. “There is an elected president and another person declares himself president, and some countries recognise this. This may cause chaos,” Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu told the A Haber news channel. “We are against the isolation of countries. I hope the situation will be solved peacefully.”
Mexico, part of the 14-member Lima Group, departed from the regional bloc’s call for democratic transition and said it would stick to its “constitutional principles of non-intervention”.
It joined with Uruguay, the only other prominent Latin American country still recognising Maduro, in calling for additional talks between the government and opposition to find a “peaceful solution”. Previous talks brokered by the Vatican on the Venezuelan situation broke down.
Mexico had previously criticised Venezuela but its new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, has returned the country to its traditional foreign policy of not weighing in on other internal affairs of other countries and expecting the same silence in return.
Uruguay’s foreign ministry said in a statement on Wednesday that the two countries were proposing a “new process of inclusive and credible negotiations with full respect for the rule of law and human rights” to resolve the dispute peacefully.
Iran denounced events in Venezuela, saying the opposition’s claim there that it holds the presidency was a “coup” and an attempt to take over power unlawfully.
In Tehran, foreign ministry spokesman Bahram Ghasemi told reporters on Thursday that the “Islamic Republic of Iran supports the government and people of Venezuela against any sort of foreign intervention and any illegitimate and illegal action such as attempt to make a coup d’état.” His remarks were carried by the semi-official Isna news agency.
Cuba expressed its support, with the state newspaper Granma saying that by recognising Guaidó as interim president, Donald Trump was “directing a coup d’état”. Cuba is hugely dependent on Venezuelan petroleum paid for with doctors.
The UN secretary general, António Guterres, said talks in Venezuela were needed to avoid the political crisis spiralling out of control.
“What we hope is that dialogue can be possible, and that we avoid an escalation that would lead to the kind of conflict that would be a disaster for the people of Venezuela and for the region,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos.
“Sovereign governments have the possibility to decide whatever they want. What we are worried [about] with the situation in Venezuela is the suffering of the people of Venezuela.”
Maduro has presided over a deepening economic crisis that has left millions of people in poverty as the oil-rich country faces shortages of basic necessities such as food and medicine.
An estimated 2.3 million people have fled the country since 2015, according to the UN, and the International Monetary Fund says inflation will hit a 10 million per cent this year.
Andrew Roth y Lily Kuo