In the heated atmosphere surrounding Venezuela, a most unpleasant letter arrived from the Council of the Federal Assembly of the Russia Federation (Duma) to its counterparts in the Senate and House of Representatives in Colombia. The issue would not have been of great significance, except for the fact that the Duma is first and foremost at the service of Vladimir Putin.
With the unwelcome presence of the Russian military in the neighboring country, the letter adds to bilateral and regional tension. This escalation deserves to be evaluated with serenity and firmness on the part of the government.
In what resembles another chapter of the Cold War, the serious situation in Venezuela has put the United States and Russia back on the chessboard. The friction is deepened by a breakdown of relations between Washington and Caracas, the application of economic sanctions to the Nicolás Maduro regime, the arrival of a large number of Russian military personnel and the installation of a sophisticated missile system, while the country is suffering from an unprecedented humanitarian crisis.
Although the absurd possibility of an armed conflict between the two countries has been dismissed by President Iván Duque and Foreign Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo, the current dynamics of events continue to − at the least − spark concern.
The magazine, Semana [a Colombian weekly magazine of opinion and analyses], recently published two separate reports showing that Moscow is making a serious bet in protecting Maduro. Recent moves have been carefully calculated either to defend its strategic interests, or in retribution for the presence of NATO troops on Russia’s border, or to insure that payment − in oil − of debts incurred over the past 20 years by Caracas would not be threatened if the dictatorship falls.
President Donald Trump said recently that “Russia has to get out” of Venezuela, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned his counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, about "the continued insertion of Russian military personnel" there.
For good reason, this thorny issue will be among the chief of those addressed by NATO itself, which meets this week in Washington. This is certain: It is not a minor issue.
Despite more diplomatic explanations given by the Russian Embassy in Colombia to tone down the content, the Russian Duma letter is part of this spiral: "After the failure of the attempted coup in Venezuela supported by the United States, the supporters of the forced overthrow of the legitimate government of Nicolás Maduro have resorted to open provocations (...) 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 as an act of aggression against a sovereign State and a threat to international peace and security." That’s how it stands.
The truth is that Colombia is facing an unprecedented situation. What happens in Venezuela will surpass crises previously experienced. The incoming government counted on a quick resolution of the problem, counting on the full support of the U.S. and the Lima Group: The illegitimate regime would go. In this game, there were contradictory declarations by our ambassador in Washington, supporting White House proposals. President Duque wasn’t sufficiently clear during his meetings with Trump or Pompeo in establishing the country’s position, which he later would do.
Maduro's departure must take place, according to the constitution and with respect for the norms of international law. A military intervention would have very serious consequences for Colombia. Hence, diplomacy must continue to be used to prevent this escalation from increasing. Both Washington and Moscow have to weigh carefully the implications for the region of an increase of soldiers and weapons in Venezuela.