Maduro stays put, mediation can help

(Eye of the storm: Venezuela’s famed Orinoco Oil Belt)

Russia is doing the right thing by switching tack from strident ‘anti-American’ rhetoric to focus on tamping down the tensions over Venezuela. China had counseled such an approach right from the outset when the crisis erupted last week.

On day one of a looming US-Venezuelan standoff on January 24, the Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson called upon “all relevant parties to stay rational and cool-headed and seek a political solution to the issue of Venezuela through peaceful dialogue within the framework of the Venezuelan Constitution.”

This was alongside Beijing’s vehement support for the efforts of the Venezuelan government of President Nicolas Maduro “to uphold national sovereignty, independence and stability” as well as China’s unequivocal opposition to “foreign interference in Venezuela’s affairs.”

It stands to reason that Moscow too began toning down its rhetoric and harmonizing with the Chinese stance. The heart of the matter is that the Venezuelan crisis holds the danger of putting a dagger into the heart of the international system in an already unstable world order full of potential for chaos, which of course is not in the interest of any of the three big powers that are ‘stakeholders’ – the US, Russia and China.

Thus, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s remarks to the media on Wednesday in Moscow offering mediation between the government and the opposition in Venezuela can be put in perspective. Lavrov acknowledged China and Russia’s role as Venezuela’s “leading partners” in the economic sphere. He then recalled the various ideas floated by different quarters – the European Union, the Caribbean Community, Uruguay and Mexico – to provide platform for mediation. And Lavrov added, “The Non-Aligned Movement should probably have its say, all the more so that Venezuela chairs it now.” Lavrov regretted that so far all such initiatives to start a dialogue have been “bluntly rejected” by the opposition due to instigation by its “Western sponsors.”

Lavrov said Moscow is striving to “create conditions for the start of dialogue” and is discussing it with the Venezuelan government, China, Latin American countries and the EU. He underscored Russia’s readiness “to take part in the relevant international efforts in the formats that will suit the Venezuelan parties” – that is to say, “all mediation initiatives should be unbiased and their future format should be balanced”; mediation “should represent a broad range of international players that can influence the Government and the opposition”; and, “it is necessary to understand from the very start what goal is pursued by a potential mediation format.”

Significantly, Lavrov singled out Moscow’s ongoing contacts with Brussels in regard of the EU’s proposal to establish a contact group for mediation, notwithstanding the ultimatum given to Caracas “by some EU countries, including influential ones” (read UK, France, Spain and Germany). He said picture will be clear soon as to “who is talking about what” (in Brussels), but the bottom line is that “such opportunities exist and I believe the said initiative can be rather useful if unbiased.”

Lavrov welcomed Maduro’s readiness to accept international mediation and he urged the opposition “to display a similar constructive approach, give up ultimatums and act independently, relying primarily on the interests of the Venezuelan people.”

Indeed, it is far from clear whether in the prevailing new Cold War conditions, such a denouement through mediation by an international contact group including Russia will suit Washington, which has just declared an economic war against Venezuela. From all appearance, the Trump administration is carrying out the agenda of the Wall Street for a regime change in Venezuela and the project is fairly well advanced already. The intention is to cripple Venezuela’s state-owned oil company with sanctions and make Maduro submit to the US diktat. In the US estimation, Venezuela’s oil industry cannot recover without significant reinvestment, which can only come from the US or China.

On the other hand, one silver lining on the horizon is that there are no signs as yet of the Pentagon being on war footing. In a situation such as this, typically, the US state department ought to have requested evacuation support from Pentagon by now, but no such thing has happened so far.

(Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in event with military leaders during commemoration of 81th anniversary of Bolivarian National Guard, Caracas, August 2018 )

Suffice to say, a protracted diplomatic slugfest is beginning, involving the US and some of its allies on one side and Russia and China on the other. An ouster of Maduro, in these circumstances, seems a very remote possibility – and can even be ruled out – so long as he enjoys sufficient support among the Venezuelan military and the ruling party’s social and political base remains so very substantial as at the moment. The strong likelihood is that Maduro will weather the storm and the US-led diplomatic and economic pressure cannot dislodge him from power.

The transcript of Lavrov’s media comments is here.