08 January 2013

Russia: already grieving about Chavez

Venezuelan vice president, Nicolas Maduro, is maneuvering between the pressure to tell some truth about Chavez' state of health and the political expediency. The truth is kind of difficult to contain:
Thursday, a government spokesman said Chavez was battling a severe lung infection that has caused respiratory failure. Ernesto Villegas said the president was following a strict treatment regimen for "respiratory insufficiency" caused by the infection.
Which, probably, means, that a breathing machine is involved, and one can only guess the outcome. The political zigging and zagging, though, is another matter, and the inauguration question as well as the question of new elections (in case Chavez either croaks or is incapacitated) are interesting, but covered in the linked above article sufficiently. Oh, and if anyone is asking, I am not going to be especially happy if and when the Caudillo dies. No matter how reprehensible this quasi-socialist demagogue is, Latin America's history is chock-full of his type, and at least he wasn't an especially bloodthirsty type - unlike his bosom buddy Fidel and his henchmen.

I have stumbled on an interesting angle of expected Chavez' demise: the Russian attitude to the subject. Of course, your average Russian citizen couldn't care less. Unlike Turkey, Egypt and Cyprus, Venezuela isn't a popular destination for a Russian tourist. But the Russian leadership is (justifiably) concerned. After all, Russia is on the brink of losing an important customer in the Middle East - the bloody Baby Assad's regime. While still pouring military equipment and money into Syria, Russians feel that the case is lost, as is the current investment and the future prospects.

The tone of the Russian officialdom's attitude to the situation in Venezuela was set by Pravda (who else?) in the pessimistic article titled Chavez' departure - a blow to Russian economy.
The friendship between Russia and Venezuela will end with the departure of Chavez. How the relations between the two countries will develop after the departure of President of the Republic from office, is still unknown. But it is already clear that effects ... are unlikely to be positive. Meanwhile, Russia has made a huge investment in the country's economy.
Besides the headline and the lede that say it all in general, the article if full of details. Starting with the famous order of 100,000 Kalashnikov rifles (later doubled), through tanks, jet fighter planes, missile systems, choppers - the list of Caudillo's purchases, besides reading as a recipe for world domination, is coming to 10 billion dollars! Most of that, of course, bought on credit, readily provided by Moscow, in anticipation for more lucrative orders and other profitable non-military deals:
In addition to the multibillion dollar arms contracts, Russia has also invested in the oil industry in Venezuela. Russia plans to set up a consortium to develop oil fields in the country, the project involving all major Russian oil and gas companies. The project is estimated at $ 20 billion.
So yes, no one can say that Russians are unduly worried. Most of the other reviews of the situation in the Russian press repeat the same fears, with some interesting observations. Like from this article:
Obviously, the Venezuelan society has accumulated a certain weariness of Chavez' socialism, which [tiredness] significantly strengthens the position of the opposition. All this does not exclude the possibility of either an early election in which Capriles has more chances, or a military coup. Both scenarios do not leave much chance of success for Russian investments.
Of course, Venezuela is important to Russia (and not only to Russia) for more than just economic considerations. Using Venezuela as a fulcrum against United States, Russia, China, Cuba and Iran are doing their best to muddy the waters in Latin America. Any change of regime in Venezuela, that may cause inconvenience to these activities, bothers the above mentioned. Witness the information ostensibly coming from Wikileaks (and as such needs to be taken with a large dose of salt). Besides describing some fighting between the Russian and Cuban teams of medics treating Chavez, the documents describe the worries of the four "partners" about Chavez' possible successors.
The analysis focused on establishing the possible successors to Chavez and names Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, the National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and the president of state oil company PDVSA, Rafael Ramirez, among others.

Regarding an upcoming transition period, both China and Russia are more interested in “preserving Chavismo, the regime”, rather than “Chávez, the personality”.

The report revealed that Russia is so worried about a Venezuela without Chavez that it “has set up a specific task force to help manage the post-Chavez transition.”

The sources cited by Stratfor reported that the candidate favored by Chinese, Russians and Brazilians is Nicolas Maduro, while Cubans tilt more toward Chávez’s brother Adam, mainly because they don’t believe Maduro will guarantee the oil subsidies they have enjoyed so far.
Another point is made quite forcefully:
The email mentioned Venezuela’s “military elite” as being “easy to bribe,” “living the good life,” and surrounded by “lots of women” and “booze. They don’t care about Chávez. They care about maintaining their current lifestyles. We’ve seen a lot of these military elite reach out to us lately, trying to insulate themselves in a post-Chavez scenario.”
And this is why the usual fate may be in store for Venezuela. Frequent military coups, no matter the ideology mantle that the current regime wears, are a distinguishing feature of the "politics" in the region. So my personal sentiment is closer to a quite sober assessment made by another Russian journalist:
The history of this part of the world shows that close associates are often the initiators of coups and army, swearing loyalty to the current government, forgets the oath.
Turbulent times ahead for Venezuela.


Dick Stanley said...

Sounds like the Egyptian military. Well, the corruption part.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Only the location is different, a junta will remain a junta under any other name.

Sara Noble said...

Supposedly the Castro Brothers already run the show in Venezuela. Whoever runs Venezuela, it will not be good for us.

SnoopyTheGoon said...

Who knows?

David All said...

Sounds like Chavez is just resting like Monty Python's dead parrot and Arafat, while his successors decide who gets to sit on the throne and divide up the spoils including the loot like Arafat's widow, Miss Piggy, and Arafat's successors did.

OT: Speaking of Assad, Russia has a town where he and his family could find shelter. Read about it at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/12/29/world/europe/in-barvikha-russia-leaders-like-assad-find-haven.html?_r=0

Putin's Russia is the favorite refuge for deposed rulers just like Franco's Spain was in the 1950s and 60s. My Dad sat next to one of them, the former President of Congo, Brassaville, on a plane from Rome to Madrid in 1966. See article about him at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fulbert_Youlou