The good news is that dialogue between Washington and Moscow regarding Venezuela seems to be re-established. But this is not the only game in town: many various actors will try to have a say regarding any negotiations that eventually will follow after Sochi.
The current political impasse in Venezuela – after several failed attempts by the opposition to displace Nicolás Maduro from office – is linked to two issues.
The first one is related to the call for support made by the opposition to the armed forces, a sector that is closely related to the government and to legal and illicit business controlled by the military in a country with more than 2000 generals over a total population of 32 million inhabitants.
The second one is linked to the role of big powers in the internal political struggle in the country, as the United States support the opposition and their call for fair and free elections, and Russia backs the current regime in power. The United States used to be the main buyer of Venezuelan abundant oil, while in the last decade the Russian Federation – mostly through Rosneft – invested and increased its participation in extraction fields and commercialization of Venezuelan oil. While Washington is supporting the opposition and threatening to use “any options” to oust Maduro and restore democracy in the country – eventually including military intervention – Russia backs Maduro’s regime emphasizing the respect of the principles of sovereignty and non-interference in internal affairs. Besides the plead of both countries in defense of values and international principles, geopolitical and economic interests are actually the main issues at stake. For the United States, after a recent resurrection of the “Monroe Doctrine”, Latin America and the Caribbean are part of its geo-strategic backyard, where no foreign power should be allowed to intervene. At the same time, for Trump’s administration, any foreign policy initiative is subordinate to the 2020 presidential elections campaign. For the Russian Federation, even if geographically distant, Venezuela is an important geo-strategic beachhead to reaffirm its status as a great power, to stave off conflicts from its own borders and near abroad, and to annoy and distract the United States from other regions.
After the delivery of the Mueller report in the United States, the suspicions about a collusion of Trump with Russia are momentarily suspended, allowing to a renewal of dialogue and interaction of Washington with Moscow. During the last ten days, contacts between US and Russian officials increased, including a phone conversation between presidents Putin and Trump on May 3rd, and talks between US Department of State Pompeo and Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Lavrov. A second meeting on Venezuela between Pompeo and Lavrov is planned for next week in Sochi. Both parties agree on avoiding the possibility of a military intervention in Venezuela, in accordance with the expectations of most of the countries of the hemisphere. But there surely should be some compromise in terms of how to address an eventual political transition in the country. Trump´s administration can’t lose face and allow Maduro’s permanence in power. The key question is what the US is ready to concede – an assurance that Venezuelan debts and investments will be paid, a reduction of Western economic sanctions after the Ukraine crisis, concessions regarding Iran – in exchange for a political transition and the withdrawal of the small contingent of Russian troops in Venezuela? And what Moscow is willing to negotiate in exchange for any US offer? In this regard, for both parties, principles and values are nice, but interests – economic, geopolitical – will prevail during the conversations. And Venezuela is becoming just a piece of a greater game.