What are the Russian military doing in Venezuela?

When two Russian transport planes landed this Saturday (23.03.2019) at the Caracas airport, some observers thought about a possible intervention by Moscow in the struggle for power in Venezuela.

By: Deutsche Welle

According to press reports, Ilyushin-62 and Antonov-124 aircraft were carrying around 100 uniformed soldiers and 35 tons of goods, including heavy trucks.

It was also said that the head of the General Staff of the Russian Land Forces, Colonel General Vasilii Tonkoshkurov, would be part of the delegation; and that, on the way to Caracas, both planes landed in Syria, where Russia has been militarily involved since 2015, in support of President Bashar al-Assad. Will Russia now come to play a similar role in Venezuela?

Will the Kremlin with its Armed Forces assist the pressured Venezuelan president in office, Nicolás Maduro? Would an intervention like the one in 1979 in Afghanistan even be possible?

Russia provides Venezuela with weapons by billions

In Moscow, the competent authorities have maintained, in principle, discretion. In the Russian media, the arrival in Venezuela of two military transport aircraft has been treated as a marginal issue. The military would have traveled to the Caribbean country to hold talks related to previous agreements on the supply of arms. There is nothing “mysterious” about it, said on Monday (03.25.2019) a report by the state news agency RIA Novosti, citing a Russian diplomat in Caracas.

During the past few years, Russia has been delivering arms to Venezuela for an estimated value of more than 10 billion dollars, including warplanes, helicopters, anti-aircraft systems and tanks.

Soon, that Latin American country would have a machine gun factory of the “Kalashnikov” type and a Russian cartridge factory. These weapons supplies, together with the investment in the Venezuelan oil industry, represent the two main interests of Russia in this nation in crisis.

Military aid “symbolic”

In recent months, the Kremlin has denied reports of a possible military presence of Russia in Venezuela, disqualifying them as rumors. It has been speculated, among other things, about alleged Russian mercenaries with combat experience in eastern Ukraine and Syria, the so-called “Troop Wagner”. But Maduro did not ask for military help in his telephone conversation with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the end of January, Kremlin spokesman Dmitri Peskov said at the time.

So far, Russia has shown rather symbolically its willingness to help Venezuela militarily. Thus, in December 2018, for example, Moscow sent two long-range bombers of the Tupolev-160 type to Caracas, which participated in a joint exercise with the Venezuelan Air Force.

A small detail: at that time, the bombers were accompanied by the same machines that have now landed in Caracas, an Illjuschin-62 and an Antonov-124. However, this was before the crisis worsened, the opposition politician Juan Guaidó declared himself interim president of Venezuela and was recognized by many Western countries.

The Russian media mention two possible reasons why Moscow has so far shown reserves to interfere militarily in Venezuela. On the one hand, the Venezuelan Army is considerably stronger there than in Syria before the Russian intervention. On the other hand, the distance from one country to another is significantly greater; and the logistical support to the troops, more difficult. In Russian social networks it is speculated, above all, that Russia wants to dissuade the United States from military intervention in Venezuela.

Experts do not rule out anything

The extent of the Russian presence in the Latin American country until today does not allow a comparison with the Russian operation in Syria, much less with the Soviet intervention in Afghanistan. On the true background of the current Russian presence in Venezuela can only be speculated, says Russian military expert Alexander Golts, in conversation with DW: “Maybe they are preparing to evacuate Maduro, transport gold or send reinforcements to defend Maduro” , Golts adventure and does not rule out “nothing”.

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