Russian Mercenaries in Venezuela: Nothing We Can’t Handle
400 Russian mercenaries have set up shop in Venezuela to protect dictator Nicolas Maduro, but that should not be a deterrent to an international coalition seeking to restore freedom in the country.
This Friday, January 25, Reuters published a report affirming that three sources confirmed to the news agency that mercenaries who carry out secret missions for the Russian government, have traveled to Venezuela in recent days to “reinforce the security” of Nicolás Maduro.
Regarding the number of mercenaries currently in Venezuela, the article states that “Yevgeny Shabayev, leader of a local chapter of a Cossack paramilitary group with links to Russian military contractors, said he had heard that the number of Russian contractors in Venezuela could be about 400.” The agency notes that other sources speak of smaller groups.
Reuters also reveals that the contractors are associated with the Wagner group, whose members fought clandestinely in support of Russian forces in Syria and Ukraine. One of the sources said that the contingent flew to Venezuela at the beginning of last week, “one or two days before the opposition protests began,” but apparently the first time that the Russian mercenaries touched down on Venezuelan soil was for the 2018 elections.
In addition, according to the information given by one of the sources, Cuba is also involved. The mercenaries left Russia on two charter planes bound for Cuba, and subsequently flew on regular commercial flights to Venezuela. Specifically, the mission of these men is to protect Maduro from any attack from opposition sympathizers infiltrated into his own security forces.
Finally, the agency notes that flight tracking data, publicly available, shows that several Russian government aircraft landed in or near Venezuela in recent weeks. For example, a Russian Ilyushin-96 flew to Havana on Wednesday night.
Before the publication of this data, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov, tried ignore the situation. “We do not have such information,” he said. For his part, the Russian ambassador in Caracas, Vladímir Zaemski, also denied the publication. “I have no record of any Russian military company that is present in Venezuela, again it is a misinformation,” he said.
However, recently, on different occasions, the Russian government has blatantly lied about its military actions in other countries, meaning that the statements of its diplomats and even its president are hardly reliable.
Of course, the message of the Kremlin spokesman and the Russian ambassador in Caracas is clear: they say that Russia does not participate, officially, militarily in Venezuela. So if the United States decided to intervene militarily in Venezuela, there would not be at this time an official armed conflict between Russia and the Americans, because the Russians claim not to have a formal participation in Venezuela. This also makes it clear how much support Maduro has from the Russians. The Kremlin has confined itself to telling the United States that an intervention in Venezuela would be a “catastrophe.”
On the other hand, any military action by the United States in Venezuela (for example, accompanying Juan Guaidó or supporting the military in an eventual capture of Maduro and Diosdado Cabello) would not represent an international conflict. The Russian mercenaries do not constitute for the United States an impediment to an eventual collaboration with the legitimate government of Venezuela.
The United States is clearly concerned that this could allow Venezuela, a country of such strategic importance, to be taken over by the Kremlin and filled with Russian mercenaries. But the United States is not afraid to deal with these scenarios and can face them without the serious traumas that many imagine.
Last year, Mike Pompeo, Secretary of State and former director of the CIA, revealed before the Senate commission that at the beginning of 2018 there was a confrontation in Syria between American troops and Russian mercenaries, in which “a couple of hundred” Russians allegedly died. Different media reported that the fighters that were killed belonged to the private mercenary organization the Wagner Group, which is supposed to have members in Venezuela.
Those who assume that the United States might cancel their plans concerning Venezuela due to the presence of Russian mercenaries, should consider that while this context makes the cost of intervening more expensive, it is not a decisive or unmanageable factor for the American military. As I said before, this could even push the United States to take the first step instead of delaying its plans.
Finally, it is critical to clarify the type of military intervention that would be desirable in Venezuela. There are those who believe that when speaking of intervention, reference is made to a situation in which the United States completely takes over the country and imposes a new government at will. However, what many of us refer to, and what is most likely, is a foreign military cooperation that would be led by Juan Guaidó and by the Venezuelan military, and that would not have to go beyond the capture of tyrants and protection of the president.
It is not Trump, nor Pompeo, who have decided that Guaidó will become the leader of this process. Guaidó was elected deputy in 2015 by the vote of Venezuelans. The United States also has nothing to do with the historic marches that have taken place in Venezuela calling for the fall of Maduro. The tyrant and his cronies, like Diosdado Cabello and Jorge Rodríguez, are nothing more than drug traffickers who are committing a massacre, so an eventual capture and extradition to the United States would not bother anyone and would be appreciated by the vast majority of Venezuelans.
The possibility alluded to by some of Maduro becoming a martyr has no place in reality: only a few criminals would be sad about the capture of their partner. Whether he is captured or forced into exile (allowed, for example, to take refuge in Cuba) the operation would not have to involve all of Venezuelan territory or expand beyond the surroundings of Miraflores or Fuerte Tiuna, where Maduro is likely to seek refuge.
We must work to reject the idea repeated in the media and among politically correct opinion makers that an eventual international collaboration in the Venezuelan situation is necessarily negative. There is nothing wrong with Guaidó, in legal representation of the millions of Venezuelans who pray for the tyrant’s departure, requesting military aid from countries that voluntarily want to give it to him.
For the time being, it would seem that things are moving towards the path we have proposed here. Maduro is a drug trafficker and is internationally accused of crimes against humanity. On Friday, January 25, Elliot Abrams, one of the main minds behind the capture of Panamanian dictator Manuel Noriega, was named by Trump “an emissary to restore democracy in Venezuela,” and more and more military men are taking Guaidó’s side.
Venezuela has already been subjected to foreign intervention (by the Russians), but above all by the Cubans who have established and maintained for years a socialist tyranny in which people die every day. The vast majority of ordinary Venezuelans ask the United States to help them get rid of the narco-dictatorship.