By Jon Dougherty
Over the weekend, Russia sent two planes — one full of cargo and another full of about 100 Russian troops — to Venezuela, ostensibly as part of a “mutual aid” agreement with President Nicolas Maduro.
On Wednesday, speaking to reporters at the White House, POTUS Donald Trump made it crystal clear to Russian President Vladimir Putin that wasn’t a good idea at all.
Reiterating his administration’s position that it backs Maduro opposition leader Juan Guaido, POTUS said that “Russia has to get out” as the U.S. works through its policy options to deal with the socialist leader who has destroyed the region’s once-richest democracy.
As he spoke, POTUS was meeting with Fabiana Rosales, the wife of Guaido. He has been recognized as the legitimate leader of Venezuela by the U.S. and various Western nations following a shamÂ election months ago, though Russia and China still endorse only the regime of Maduro — likely because both countries have invested billions in Maduro’s regime.
When asked by a reporter if U.S. diplomats had communicated his message to Moscow, POTUS Trump replied, “They know very well.”
Going further, the president said “all options are on the table” regarding what choices he had in dealing with a continued Russian presence in what is essentially the United States’ back yard.
However, expelling the Russians won’t be easy, if it can be done at all.
Moscow has historic ties to Venezuela. Not only does remaining close to Caracas give Moscow a foothold in our hemisphere, but Maduro and his predecessors have purchased billions of dollars’ worth of Russian military gear.
Also, asÂ Vox notes:
…[T]he real economic links center on oil.
Russiaâ€™s national oil company, Rosneft, has spent about $9 billion investing in Venezuelan oil projects since 2010,Â ReutersÂ reported on March 14. It has yet to break even, and in fact is owed roughly aboutÂ $3 billionÂ from Venezuela.
Whatâ€™s more,Â RosneftÂ owns two offshore gasfields in Venezuela and has a stake in around 20 million tons of crude there.
“Russia is now so deeply invested in the Maduro regime that the only realistic option is to double down,â€Â Alexander Gabuev, an expert at the Carnegie Moscow Center, wrote in the Financial TimesÂ February 3.
The last time U.S. and Russian forces squared off it was in Syria — and they weren’t “officially” Russian forces, they were mercenaries who worked for the Wagner Group, a Russian ‘private security’ company.
As we reported in April 2018, U.S. forces killed hundreds of these mercs when they attacked a U.S.-manned outpost in Syria:
Secretary of State nominee and current CIA Director Mike Pompeo confirmed during a Senate hearing last week that U.S. forces and their Syrian allies killed hundreds of Russian mercenaries during an attack in February.
In response to questions about the U.S. relationship with Russia, Pompeo confirmed that â€œa couple hundred Russians were killedâ€ by U.S. special forces and Syrian-based allies.
The battle had already been acknowledged by Russian and Syrian officials,Â TimeÂ reported, but the U.S. had not offered any official confirmation publicly before Pompeoâ€™s admission.
U.S. troops were responding to an attack by Russian mercenaries and Syrian government forces. Initially, Moscow downplayed the attack, claiming that the Russian mercenaries were not under Moscowâ€™s control.
Whether Putin wants to start World War III over Venezuela and Maduro, no matter how many rubles he has invested there, is a whole other matter, however. More like, he’s just trying to give POTUS Trump something else to think about.
- Follow Jon Dougherty on Twitter at @JonDougherty10