How they see us: Is Russia calling the shots in Venezuela?
The failed coup against Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro has exposed the weakness of the country’s U.S.-backed opposition, said Igor Pshenichnikov in Izvestia (Russia). Puppet opposition leader Juan Guaidó—who proclaimed himself interim president in January and was immediately recognized by the Trump administration—jumped out “like a jack-in-the-box” with a video on social media last week that showed him surrounded by rebel soldiers and exhorting Venezuelans to rise up. The sight of Leopoldo López—the real opposition leader, who had been under house arrest—at his side gave his announcement a veneer of credibility. But there was no uprising. A few soldiers may have sprung López, but the army remained loyal to Maduro. After the fiasco, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tried to blame Russia, saying that Maduro had been ready to flee to Cuba on a jet until his Russian backers ordered him to stay put, but nobody believes that.
Were the Americans duped? asked Andy Robinson in La Vanguardia (Spain). The Trump administration’s point man for Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, claimed that top Venezuelan officials—including Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López, Supreme Court Justice Maikel Moreno, and presidential guard commander Iván Rafael Hernández Dala—were negotiating with the U.S. about restoring democracy. They seemingly balked at the last second and refused to join Guaidó. But Venezuelans in the know say that Padrino “pretended to be a conspirator while passing information to Maduro and the Russians” the whole time.
After the bungled coup, President Donald Trump phoned Russian President Vladimir Putin to tell him to stay out of Venezuela, said Vladimir Frolov in The Moscow Times (Russia). But “Trump quickly lost the initiative” and ended up going “full Helsinki”—accepting his Russian counterpart’s denials over the findings of his own intelligence services, just as he did in their Helsinki summit last summer. Putin would simply “like to see something positive happen for Venezuela,” said Trump. Actually, what Putin really wants is to trade Venezuela for Ukraine. U.S. officials say Venezuela is in the American sphere of influence and Russia must leave it alone, so by that logic, the Kremlin thinking goes, the U.S. should quit supporting Ukraine. “Moscow is ready to sell its stake in Maduro, but it is still unclear whether Washington is ready to offer the right price.”
In fact, Beijing, not Moscow, is Maduro’s “biggest backer,” said Shi Jiangtao in the South China Morning Post (China). China overtook Russia in 2013 to become Venezuela’s biggest supplier of weapons, and Beijing’s $60 billion worth of loans to Caracas—which oil-rich Venezuela repays with crude—dwarfs Moscow’s investments. But even if it wants to, Beijing can’t dump Maduro so long as the military is behind him. That support could soon vanish, said Francesco Manetto in El País (Spain). Those Venezuelan officials who were plotting with the U.S. are now “so afraid of reprisals” from Maduro that they will “accelerate any option that leads to his exit.” Maduro’s end is nigh. ■