Hold Russia accountable for Venezuela's 5,000 surface-to-air missiles

Russia has sent strong friendship signals to the U.S., led by President Trump, and a willingness to be an important partner of the U.S. in fighting Islamist terror.  But there's some unfinished business from an earlier era that might be worth addressing first: its sales of 5,000 MANPADS surface-to-air missiles to the crumbling, chaotic Chavista hellhole regime of Venezuela.

According to a report from Reuters:

Venezuela possesses 5,000 Russian-made MANPADS surface-to-air weapons, according to a military document reviewed by Reuters, the largest known stockpile in Latin America and a source of concern for U.S. officials amid the country's mounting turmoil.

Venezuela's socialist government has long used the threat of an "imperialist" invasion by the United States to justify an arms buildup. Much of that arsenal was obtained from Russia by Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, whose tenure lasted from 1999 until his death in 2013.

The missiles, which are shoulder-mounted and can be operated by one person, pose a serious threat to commercial and military aircraft. Weapons experts said there have long been fears that the weapons could be stolen, sold or somehow channeled to the wrong hands, concerns exacerbated by the current civil unrest in Venezuela and the economic crisis roiling the oil-producing nation.

It's a bad situation, given that Chavistas are universally corrupt, their hellhole regime is out of money, and there are ready and willing buyers among the world's gamiest actors, such as Mexico's cartels, ISIS terrorists, migrant smuggling operations, and assorted wannabe rebel groups floating around the Central and South American regions.  Any of those factors could drive a Chavista official to sell the missiles to one of these gamy players.

If anything goes wrong, the onus will be on Russia for putting the weaponry into the hands of the Venezuelan thug regime in the first place.

Would it be too much to ask, in a non-threatening way, if the Russians could work to buy back those missiles so as to keep them out of the hands of the thugs?

Policy-wise, the U.S. could send the message that it understands why the missiles were sold in the first place – likely as retaliation for U.S. activities in Russia's "near abroad" – and bygones will be bygones once the threat is out of the picture.

The alternative is for the U.S. to just wait for the missile launch or other trouble from these weapons to happen.  The Reuters report is careful not to overstate the risk, given the many false alarms that have gone off over Hezb'allah in the Americas.

But it's a non-problem only until it's a problem.  Venezuela is a hellhole right now and on fire.  Some strong efforts to lean on the Russians to end this problem should be a fairly high priority in the Trump administration as it seeks to improve relations with Russia.  Getting weapons out of the hands of Chavista thugs would do a lot to mend relations.

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