Russia's been in Venezuela less than two weeks and already it's threatening to attack Colombia

Less than two weeks ago, Russia shifted the balance of power in Venezuela, sending in 100 crack troops, ostensibly to repair Russian-made military aircraft damaged in Venezuela's massive blackout. 

According to the Washington Post:

Two planeloads of roughly 100 Russian military personnel landed in Venezuela. The stated reason for their arrival was to help service Venezuela’s Russian-purchased S-300 air defense systems, which may have been damaged amid the country’s increasingly frequent blackouts. The news followed earlier reports of Russian mercenaries or private military contractors already operating as security for the embattled regime.

Venezuela's neighbors, including the U.S., and Venezuela's own people expressed deep dismay, because it appeared that Russia would be propping up Venezuela's brutal failed socialist regime to ensure that Venezuela's democrats could never dislodge dictator Nicolas Maduro. The gambit appeared to be part of a replay of what the Putin regime did in Syria to prop up its ally, dictator Bashar al-Assad, as this strong piece by Annika Hernroth-Tothstein at the Daily Beast argued. Russia nevertheless downplayed the the whole thing, and National Security Advisor John Bolton's warning, calling Russia's dispatch of troops to Venezuela "a direct threat to international peace and security in the region" came and went without much notice.

Well, now we get the truth about Russia's real mission. One of Russia's ambassadors passed on a letter from Russia's equivalent of the Senate to Colombia's Senate, warning the neighbor to not dare violate Venezuelan airspace, or there would be hell to pay. If you can read Spanish, here is El Tiempo of Bogota's report. Here is a Google translation of what the Russians said:

The communication, signed by the Russian ambassador in Bogotá, Sergei Koshkin, and dated March 28, explicitly states that any type of incursion into Venezuela, which is supported by the countries that have supported the opposition to the regime of Nicolás Maduro -As is the case of Colombia- will be interpreted by Moscow as a threat to peace and international security.
"The illegitimate use of military force against Venezuela by other states that support the opposition will be interpreted by the Federation Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russian Federation only as an act of aggression against a sovereign State and a threat to international peace and security, "reads the communication signed by the ambassador.
Colombia read that as the unprovoked threat it was, according to El Tiempo:
For [Colombia's legislative president, Alejandro] Chacón, the communication is "extremely serious and important", since the Constitution provides (in its articles 173 and 212) that it is the Senate that must approve the passage of foreign troops and any declaration of war that Colombia makes.
"It is a warning to Congress, because finally we are the ones who allow the government whether or not any kind of military intervention is made in foreign territory, clearly a direct threat to the State of Colombia, that is why we are confirming why direct to the Capitol and not through diplomatic channels, "Chacón told EL TIEMPO.

Is it a threat? Yes, the way 'nice house you have there, be a shame if anything should happen to it' is. It came out of the blue, for one. What's more, as the Colombian legislator said, it targeted the right people, meaning, they are watching how things work closely. Most important, it was completely unprovoked. There has been zero rhetoric out of Colombia about militarily intervening in Venezuela (in fact, there's pretty much the opposite kinds of statements coming out), despite the fact that more than a million refugees from Venezuela have poured into that country. The latest news is that starving Venezuelans are now breaking down the Maduro dictatorship's border barriers intended to pen them in, and flooding into Colombia, a crisis that all by itself is for Colombia a casus belli.

The other casus belli is that Russian military jets have lately been violating Colombia's airspace, the latest instance happening last December, which makes Russia's threat even more of a doozy.

It did seem, as Colombia Reports's Adriaan Anselma notes, to have some brutally opportunistic timing, too, apparently a bid to drive a deeper wedge with Colombia's top ally, the U.S.

Days after US President Donald Trump publicly humiliated his Colombian counterpart, President Ivan Duque on Tuesday was forced to defend his government against Russian claims he sought to provoke civil war in Venezuela.

(I've argued that President Trump dropped the ball on that one, Colombia's alliance in this Venezuelan crisis is very important and the country's conservative leader should not be publicly humiliated.)

What's more, this isn't all Russia has done. It seems to have the propaganda machinery out, too, seeking to take down opponents of Venezuela's democrats through Twitter. This one stuck out for me - note the writer's ties to the Russian propaganda press and lockstep adherence to the party line and she falsely (and pretty ineffectually) tries to smear Ricardo Hausmann, a top official with democratic President Juan Guaido's interim government. 

They've also wheeled out the propaganda directed at us, to reduce support for Venezuela's democrats, as I noted in this piece here. Some of their handiwork may be here, too. What leaps out about all of this is how blitzkrieg-swift they are being. They move fast, the way nations at war do.

Their mission? Propping up Maduro. And with this vile and unprovoked letter threatening Colombia, they are playing for keeps.




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