Russian backing of illegitimate Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has stymied local and international efforts to oust him from power. As Russia expands its influence across the African continent, Moscow's meddling in Latin America should serve as a warning to Washington.
In Venezuela, Russia essentially traded arms and military support for oil. As Maduro's government has lost domestic and international backing, Russia stepped up its support, landing troops and equipment even as Maduro continued to starve his own people and preside over what can only be described as economic chaos.
As Russia has made clear that it has no intention of backing down, the U.S. is only starting to realize the consequences of Moscow’s strategy. Russian President Vladimir Putin has successfully purchased influence, giving him leverage over Maduro and, as long he remains in power, access to the country’s oil reserves and a troublesome foothold for Russian interests in Latin America.
But Venezuela is far from the only country that Putin has found willing to give Moscow considerable influence in exchange for Russian weapons. As the New York Times reported, deals with Russia have proliferated in the Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, and Libya among other countries.
In the Central African Republic, for example, a Russian national is currently serving as a national security adviser to the president, valuable mining resources have been traded for Russian arms and Russia has shipped weapons and advisers to train the country’s military.
In other countries, Russia seems to have bet on resources-for-arms deals as a way to undercut not only local control over economic decision but also to give Russia regional power against U.S. investment and diplomatic relations with leaders. As such deals along with the shadowy presence of Russian security firm, the Wagner Group, turn up across the continent, Washington is right to be worried.
Although those deals might seem far from U.S. interests, our recent experience with Russia meddling in Venezuela demonstrates otherwise. Such investments are not innocuous and clear-cut trade deals. Instead, they further Moscow’s clear interest in resource extraction and development of regional influence and political and economic power.