If evidence of how Eurasia is challenging the post-Cold War unilateral world order was needed, the Chinese and Russian handling of the US’ Venezuela adventure may be a fine example. The US agenda of overthrowing a regime in the name of ‘democracy’ is, of course, nothing new, but the way these two Eurasian powers have thrown the gauntlet down is certainly something new and quite revealing about the way the centre of global power is shifting from ‘the West’ to ‘the East.’ As such, just when the U.S. was building ‘all options on the table’ pressure upon Venezuela’s elected government, Moscow made it clear that Russian “specialists” were in Venezuela under the conditions of a 2001 military-technical cooperation agreement with Caracas. This was followed by the arrival of 120-strong group of Chinese military personnel on Margarita Island in the Caribbean Sea off the Venezuelan mainland on March 28 to deliver humanitarian aid and military supplies to government forces. After delivering humanitarian supplies, the Chinese PLA troops were apparently transferred to a Venezuelan military facility.
The presence of Chinese military personnel is an unprecedented move in terms of directly challenging the US’ traditional hegemonic moves vis-à-vis targeted countries like Venezuela along America’s periphery. But the fact that Russia and China are both supporting Venezuela not just diplomatically but actually on the ground means that not only are they closely coordinating their foreign policy moves, but are also not worried about stretching their military reach far beyond their own shores. The moves, as such, is global and is bound to have global consequences.
The mainstream Western media has, as could be expected, under-reported the arrival of Chinese troops to purportedly hide how the US has already lost in Venezuela.
For the US, Venezuela is important not just because it wants to dominate its periphery, but also because Venezuela is one country in the Americas where the Chinese and the Russians have made a lot of investment and have deep economic relations with. According to some recent reports, since at least 2006 and up to 2016, China has provided Venezuela loans of up to US$62 billion. A huge bulk of these loans is, of course, to be repaid with oil supplies to China. Russia, similarly, has given US$17 billion over the years plus a new deal signed in December 2018 according to which Russia would invest about US$6 billion in the country’s various sectors, including oil.
In this context, a US. sponsored regime in Venezuela, turning Venezuela into a vassal, would have certainly meant a major setback for Russian and Chinese interests. While both Russia and China don’t have exactly identical interests in the country, as Russia sees its influence in the country as more of a counter-balancing move vis-à-vis the U.S. and NATO moves in Russia’s backyard, and China sees Venezuela as an important source of oil and investment, both countries still seem to agree that a US. adventure, after all the havoc the U.S. has sown in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Libya and Yemen, cannot be simply allowed even if this adventure happens to be in the U.S.’ own backyard; hence, their closely coordinated deployment of military personnel, preemptively thwarting a possible U.S. military intervention.
The result of this presence of military specialists has had a deep impact on Washington. John Bolton’s strongly worded statement reflects the anguish and the challenge that Eurasia is posing to US domination: “We strongly caution actors external to the Western Hemisphere against deploying military assets to Venezuela, or elsewhere in the Hemisphere, with the intent of establishing or expanding military operations. We will consider such provocative actions as a direct threat to international peace and security in the region.”
While the US would typically continue to frame its inability to act militarily in terms of a ‘Russian provocation’, the nature of Russian and Chinese relations with Venezuela is already turning into a strategic defeat. The presence of military personnel is one indication. President Maduro recently announced in an interview that they will be signing at least 20 new agreements with Russia in April to deepen their already strong relationship.
Therefore, US = talk of ‘all options on the table’ notwithstanding, it is quite obvious that the U.S. won’t commit to a direct military intervention now to overthrow the regime in a way that would pit it directly against Russia and China and thus really escalate hostilities at a time when a) it is struggling to end its longest war in Afghanistan, b) has suffered a defeat in Syria, and c) its closest ally, Europe, has major disagreements over NATO spending and over ths Iran Deal and may not support such a move.
Some, however, in the US do seem to have read the writing on the wall and advised the US president to chart an alternative course, advice President Donald Trump seems to have listened to and said that he would probably ‘talk’ to Putin and Xi about Venezuela, meaning thereby that the U.S., too, in reality sees that the option of engineering a coup through a limited military intervention is off the table; hence, a major Eurasian victory in the Americas. The question then is: is the US reading that very writing on the wall that clearly says the world is no longer for the US to ‘manage’?
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.