As Juan Guaido launched his latest bid to oust Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro from power, world leaders lined up to back their man in the fight.
At stake for Moscow is proxy control of the world’s largest oil reserves, billions of dollars in investments and loans it has given to the Maduro government, and a key foothold in America’s back yard from which to project power in the region.
Meanwhile America is hoping to topple the regime and help to install a westernised democracy which would be friendlier toward Washington and bring the country into its sphere of influence.
Nicolas Maduro is facing a challenge to his rule of Venezuela from Juan Guaido, but is being backed by Russia’s Vladimir Putin and his allies
Since 2009, Russia and its state-owned oil giant Rosneft have invested almost $9billion in its Venezuelan counterpart PDVSA.
Meanwhile Moscow has also handed the country some $17billion in loans, underwritten by the oil reserves on which Maduro sits – which are the largest anywhere in the world.
Should control of the country swap to Guaido, who is backed by the US, then it is likely that Russia will never see another cent of this money repaid.
Meanwhile Venezuela is also a major buyer of Russian weapons, having purchased $11billion worth of tanks, missile defence systems, fighter jets and other small arms between 2005 and 2013.
The repayments on these weapons will almost certainly be lost if Guaido takes power, while any future weapons orders will likely be taken over by America.
Venezula’s military bases, airfields and ports also make it an ideal staging-post for Russian forces in the region.
Key to Russia’s backing is Venezuela’s huge oil reserves, and billions of dollars in loans and investments that Moscow has pumped into state oil firm PDVSA (refinery, pictured)
Venezuela also acts as a convenient staging post from which to project Russian military power in the region, with long-range Tu-160 bombers stationed there last year (file image)
In December 2018, Russia landed supersonic bombers in the country in a show of power against American military intervention.
Mercenaries in the employ of Russia’s Wagner Group, which is believed to be at least part state-controlled, are also thought to be stationed there.
Venezuela is also a major importer of Russia grain, and has ties to the country’s banking industry.
But perhaps more than resources and revenue, Russia is looking to maintain a strategic and ideological foothold in America’s back yard, from which it can project its influence across the region.
As Mikael Wigell, a researcher from the Finnish Institute of International Affairs, told RFE/RL: ‘Establishing close relations with Venezuela gives Moscow a certain nuisance power in relation to the United States, and that can be used as a bargaining chip in future dealings with the United States.
‘It also can be kind of a showcase for Russia’s aspirations to be considered a global power.’
Juan Guaido is being backed by the US and its allies, in the hopes that he will install a westernised democracy that will bring the country into America’s sphere of influence
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said America stands with ‘the Venezuelan people’ while urging the military not to fight protesters
The tussle for power was set to continue on Wednesday as Guaido published a video on Twitter, urging ‘all of Venezuela’ to take to the streets in protests against Maduro.
He promised the biggest protests in the country’s history, while rubbishing Maduro’s claim to have control of the military as ‘a farce’.
It came after Maduro broadcast an hour-long programme on state TV denouncing what he called a ‘coup’ while calling for ‘maximum loyalty’ from his troops.
There were fears of more bloodshed after a day of violence in the capital Caracas which saw live round and tear gas fired, and protesters run over by armoured cars.
At least one person, a 24-year-old, was killed in the central state of Aragua as protests spread, while more than 100 were injured around the country.