At the great Venezuelan garden party of democracy, suddenly the skunks show up

As nation after nation followed President Trump's and Brazilian president Jair Bolsonaro's lead in recognizing democratic Juan Guaidó as Venezuela's only legitimate interim president, and millions of Venezuelans marched in support, who should show up at this garden party of democracy but...Russia's Vladimir Putin, condemning the vast hemispheric shout for democracy as a sham and throwing in a threat of civil war.  The skunk has landed:

Russian officials and senior lawmakers have reacted angrily to opposition protests in Venezuela that support opposition leader Juan Guaido's claim to the presidency.

Alexei Pushkov, chairman of the information committee at the Federation Council, on Thursday called Guaido's declaration "an attempted coup" backed by the U.S.

Russia has been propping up incumbent President Nicolas Maduro, who took office for a second term earlier this month, with arms deliveries and loans.  Maduro visited Moscow in December, seeking Russia's political support and financial support.

"It's impossible to imagine that this was spontaneous," Pushkov said on state-owned Rossiya 24 television station, referring to the opposition protests.  "That was a pre-planned action, and it was certainly coordinated by the United States."

There was also this little grenade:

Pushkov warned that the showdown between Maduro and Guaido "could lead to a civil conflict, even civil war."

Civil war?  Seriously?  As if he's calling for one if he doesn't get his way?  It goes to show that even as a country such as Venezuela tries to free itself from the nightmare of socialism, it has to shake off a lot of meddlesome and malevolent overseas foreign powers who are willing to use their diplomatic muscle to undermine it, and who aren't bothered by the idea of propping up a failed dictatorship.

Up until that happened, the diplomatic picture was all coming together in the wake of Guaidó, the National Assembly legislative leader, swearing himself in as Venezuela's only legitimate president, in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution.  Brazil's President Bolsonaro recognized him early on.  President Trump recognized him right after the actual event.  An avalanche of countries followed Trump: Canada, Costa Rica, Argentina, Chile, Peru, Ecuador (hey, even Ecuador!), Colombia, Paraguay, the OAS, the Inter American Development Bank.  Even Europe made some encouraging noises.

It was an amazingly bold gambit from the U.S. and Brazil.  Rather than invade that hellhole at a cost of blood and treasure, the plan was to provide cover and support for Venezuela's own Democrats to get out there and do it themselves.  The two nations' tag-team strategy was to...ignore Venezuela's detested dictator, Nicolás Maduro, out of existence.  It was no empty gesture, as some are claiming, on the logic that Guaidó is supposedly powerless.  As the recognized acting interim president, Guaidó has the power to ask the West for...favors, such as cutting off Venezuelan oil shipments to the U.S. (a nothingburger to us, but an absolute disaster for Maduro's money stream) or to throw more financial sanctions on the Venezuelan rogue regime's elites.  There's a lot of stuff Guaidó can ask for as acting president – and get, and Maduro would not be able to do a thing about it.

Maduro has no support from his people and a tenuous well of support from his military.  If his military breaks, and it still might do that, though so far it hasn't – the game will be over.

Now Putin is intervening in this regional story that's otherwise none of his business.  Maybe that's partly because the big protests, the swearing in of Guaidó, and the international recognition that followed are giving angry Russians some ideas about how they might duplicate that matter.  But at least as likely, it's because it is his business, and it's lots of business, and it's a business that's now threatened.  Russia's a prime purveyor of Venezuela's oil earnings in the fact that Russia sells billions of dollars of arms to Venezuela on loan terms and it wants to get paid.  China and Turkey, who are also backing Maduro, are also in similar hock, and speaking out for Maduro.

It goes to show that Maduro's dictatorship actually failed years ago, but it stayed afloat by selling out to even nastier overseas patrons, and now those powers have "investments" to guard and debts to be collected.  Russia has loaned Venezuela $6.5 billion to keep its oil industry in operation and is still trying to collect $3.1 billion of that, while having its hands on about 13% of Venezuela's entire oil output.  It's also promised $6 billion in new bailout loans, something it apparently hasn't handed out yet.  There also are arms sales – armored vehicles; artillery; missiles; air defense systems; ten contracts, according to TASS, plus a giant Kalashnikov factory slated to be constructed in Venezuela this year, in what must be part of the $120 billion in loans the country is showing itself unable to pay.  The third factor, besides fear of a democracy wave and the prospect of not getting paid is probably the biggest: Venezuela's usefulness as a tool to check the U.S. just as Cuba was the useful regional tool during the Cold War (Cuba probably still is).

A lot of hands are dirty in this Venezuelan failure of socialism, and a fourth factor may well be that Russia stands to be exposed as one of the dirtiest unless Maduro holds power.

It highlights that Venezuela's fight for freedom is also a great power struggle, particularly as the U.S. tries to give Venezuelans a cocoon of support from which they can do their own version of democracy.

Remember the Monroe Doctrine?  The one the Obama administration scrapped as "over"?  Suddenly, it's pretty obvious that the entire area needs the Monroe Doctrine bad.  Trump is about to be challenged on a hard issue from Putin and will not only need to come down hard, but need to win if Venezuela is to escape its nightmare and the consequences of its disintegration are to be halted.  That's a worthy U.S. foreign policy aim.  Monroe was right all along.

Image credit: ABC World News Tonight camera screen shot.