What Happened This Week:
Following Russia’s recent decision to send 100 or so “advisors” (read: soldiers) alongside military equipment to prop up the Maduro regime in Venezuela, White House officials have repeatedly warned Moscow to stop interfering in Venezuela’s ongoing political crisis. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo kept up the drumbeat this week, declaring in a speech that “the Russians have got to leave Venezuela.” The last time anyone checked, they were still there.
Why It Matters:
This is not the first time Moscow has sent a contingent of “advisors” abroad—back in 2015, Moscow dispatched a group of personnel to prop up Bashar Assad in Syria. That decision meant that any resolution to the Syria conflict would ultimately run through Moscow. And it did. Washington has no desire to see the same thing happen in Venezuela. The worry is that as Washington and Moscow pursue their respective geopolitical aims in Venezuela, bombastic rhetoric could tip into actual violence.
For Washington, Venezuela is currently the only issue where it’s leading a global response to a pressing international issue… and other countries are actually following its lead. Its support of interim president and head of the opposition-controlled National Assembly Juan Guaido was quick and decisive, opening the door for more than 50 countries to support Venezuela’s parallel government. (It also helps that Guaido is the first legitimate alternative to Maduro that Venezuela’s fractured opposition has been willing to rally around.) Aside from the points scored for leading the international charge, Venezuela has important domestic implications for US politics as well—the largest number of Venezuelans living in the US reside in the swing state of Florida, and Venezuela is a proxy issue for Cuban-American voters as well. More broadly, Venezuela has been repeatedly held up by Trump as proof of the failures of socialism, a political ideology he frequently tags his Democratic opponents with. And while the Mueller investigation is complete and Trump has claimed exoneration, any story that involves Russia remains a politically sensitive topic for his administration. Finally, Venezuela still has the world’s largest proven oil reserves, so what happens in the country’s politics has a real impact on global energy markets, yet one more thing keeping the US closely engaged.