A Venezuelan drug dealer secures another bailout from Russia
For the umpteenth time, Venezuela has clawed back from the brink of near sovereign default, making a $1.2-billion payment on a PDVSA state oil company bond Friday, which was its absolute last chance before the ISDA's repo men, who rule on whether a type of bond insurance known as credit default swaps should be invoked, moved in.
Riding to its rescue was Russia, which has an enormous stake in Venezuela's oil production, including even its Citgo refineries. Russia agreed to renegotiate $3 billion of the straight sovereign debt Venezuela owes it, in what is believed to have been from arms sales to then-living Hugo Chávez's government.
That $3 billion gave Venezuela enough wiggle-room liquidity to shell out for the PDVSA bonds this one last time...until the next. This is Russia's third bailout of the socialist hellhole, for what it's worth. There will be more.
The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times both report that Venezuela will now seek to restructure $150 billion in debt – and those negotiations will be led by Venezuela's Vice President Tareck el-Aissami, who is on the U.S. sanctions list as a drug dealer. That's some fine company the other creditors of Venezuela, such as Goldman Sachs, will find themselves in. The Times notes that due to the sanctions, the creditors can't legally do business with him, or even be in the same room with him.
This won't bother the Russians. Russia, after all, has at least $17 billion in investment in Venezuela's oil industry, a greater amount than the $11 billion in arms sales. The arms sales just made some factory in Russia richer. The oil, on the other hand, not only represents commodity wealth, but means petro-power and Russia's capacity to control natural resources and project global influence. That's a bigger deal to Russia's leaders, who played the same game with Hillary Clinton's Uranium One deal, than a few rifle and aircraft sales. Venezuela has probably allowed the equipment to go to seed anyway.
All the same, it shows the extent to which Russia will defend its crummy little cat's-paw in the Western Hemisphere. China has an even greater stake in Venezuela's bond market health, given that it has $63 billion in loans outstanding in Venezuela. It refuses renegotiation of the debt even as it encourages default to Western creditors, and after a period of providing bailouts, it just quit giving them.
Russia hasn't. And it's costing and costing, not the least in terms of goodwill, as this piece by Foreign Policy notes. Yet it doesn't want to let go of this costly strategy. It will probably bail Venezuela out 'til kingdom come. And why is it? Not just to be the big dog on the global block, but to tweak Uncle Sam as payback for U.S. involvement in what it sees as its backyard in the Baltics, the former Soviet republics, and Eastern Europe. The U.S. has no such burden of having to bail out socialist hellholes for the purpose of manipulating them or getting back at a superpower rival. That Russia would assume this burden for an increasingly untenable regime shows the extent to which it values leverage against the U.S.