Between the Rock and a Hard Place: the history of the diplomatic relations of Venezuela with Washington and Moscow

The economic and political situation in Venezuela has been receiving more media attention in the last few years. Many political scientists and analysts have been describing this Latin-American country as an authentic “powder keg” ready to implode. At this atmosphere of constant little and large crisis, the geopolitical position of Venezuela is a very discussed topic in the international community. Given as the main topic of analysis, the harmonical relation that the Caracas’ System (apparently) has with the Russian System and, at the same time, the failed bilateral relations with USA.

Although, this geopolitical dynamic was not always like this. The times where Venezuela was one of the prime partners of USA, fighting alongside the “War against Drugs” or when the Venezuelans saw themselves forced to break the diplomatic relations with Soviet Union after the deportation of two claimed soviet spies in 20th Century, were forgotten.

To understand the political, economic, and military alliance between the Russian Federation and the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, it is necessary to realize first the nowadays political situation of the country as well as its recent History.

Once in Caracas…

In the last years of the 20th Century, Venezuela went to an age of great economic instability, that ended with the needs of a financial rescue program provided by the International Monetary Fund and austerity measures. To exacerbate the situation, the Venezuelan President, Perez, was impeached due to the corruption accusations relating with the year 1993, increasing the civil unrest with the System. (BBC, 2019)

The, at the time, coronel Hugo Chávez (that had already chaired two attempts of coups in the 90th Decade) ran for the presidential elections in 1999. Ends up being victorious due to the civil unhappiness with the System Parties. After his taking office, his government implemented the called “Bolivarian Revolution” with a new constitution, social and economic socialist and populist politics financed by the receives obtained with the oil products exportation at high prices. The country started to adopt an external politic increasingly USA opponent. It was also in this moment, that the new Venezuelan leader tried to strengthen the diplomatic relations with Russia, chaired by the elected Vladimir Putin. (VOX, 2017)

Despite, the growth dependence of the fuel sector and the population growing fear of the political and economic control exerted by the president led to a progressive increasing of the civil unrest. In the last years of his presidency, Venezuela was already presenting increasing criminal levels and Inflation. (Martz, 2021)

Even with all this factors, Hugo Chávez succeeds to win all elections, as President, in 2006 and 2012. Although, Chávez never got to take office after the last election due to medical complications, ending up dying one year after, on 23rd March after two years fighting cancer. (BBC, 2019)

Chávez had already nominated his vice-president Nicolas Maduro as his successor before dying. Maduro got to win, even though with a little advantage, the presidential elections of 2013 and has been ruling the country since when. (BBC, 2019)

His government has been characterized by great economic difficulties (with Inflation and high poverty levels) and a significative growth of internal and external contestation towards his ruling methods.

“Unlikely Friends?” – Russia & Venezuela

Historically, Russia is one of the prime geostrategic allies of Caracas’ Government. The diplomatic relations and political bonds between the two had a great approximation with the millennium turning, in the beginning years of the presidency of Hugo Chávez and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. This bonding has a special relevance considering that during old USSR years, the relation between the two countries was not the greatest. For this effect, I recall the expulsion of two claimed soviet spies from Venezuelan territory in 1956, leading to a total break of the diplomatic relations between the two governments for the majority part of the second half of 20th Century. (Schwartz, 2020)

On Moscow’s perspective, the diplomatic alliance with Venezuela is an opportunity to keep a firm position in Latin America, promote the Russian paper on the international scene as a global force and, with this, challenge the interests of USA in the region.

The fruiterer relations between Caracas and Moscow have been particularly evident in the last years. Venezuela already bought something as ten million doses of the Russian vaccine for Covid-19, Sputnik-5 and in 2021 they celebrate a new contract to buy the second Russian vaccine, EpiVacCorona. (Jraissati, 2021)

Russia is also a Venezuelan long term military ally and one of its prime warlike suppliers. In the past, Venezuela invested millions of dollars acquiring Russian warlike supplies, since military planes (as SU-30), to armoured vehicles (as the battle tank T-72) and light weaponry. (Schwartz, 2020)

This diplomatic and military partnership with Russia has also the objective of secure the survival of Maduro’s system. The Kremlin has not limited the actions in protecting the Venezuelan government from the sanctions and condemnations from the Security Council of UN but has also sent military support to the country and emitted several warnings about the severe consequences of a possible foreign military intention in Venezuela’s territory. (Jraissati. 2021)

For those who desire to see a prosper democracy emerging on the country, this last condition makes this scenario very unlikely. Knowing the objectives of the Russian external politics, the loss of a strategic ally in South America would be too costly for Moscow. (Schwart. 2020)

Since 2015, Russia has been representing a fundamental piece on the result of Syria’s Civil War. The Russian military intervention in Syria on the defence of the dictator Bashar al-Assad ended up having a decisive role for his continuation on the power and shows the dedication of Vladimir Putin on the defence of favourable Governments to the Russian interests in foreign. (Schwartz, 2020)

A complicated relation- USA & Venezuela

Until 1999, the USA and Venezuela kept harmonical bilateral relations. Those relations were characterized by a significative commercial flow and for cooperation on the narcotraffic combat in the continent. After the ascension of Hugo Chávez in 1999, those relations have been progressively deteriorating after which and every north American administration, leading to several moments of tension in the last few years. (Valuetainment, 2019)

The relations between the countries got worse after the Venezuelan accusation about the attempt of administration of George W.Bush on supporting a failed effort of coup against Chávez, in 2002. (BBC, 2019)

In 2008, the relations grown even more weaker after the expulsion of the north American ambassador of Venezuela. This action was justified by Chávez government as an act of solidarity with Bolivia, after the USA ambassador were indicted of cooperating with violent anti-governmental groups in Bolivia. (BBC, 2019)

The hostile relation between the two were appease during the first years of Barack Obama government, even though it went weaker once again later. In February 2014, the Venezuelan government asked for the expulsion of three north American diplomats under indictment of promoting violence against the system. In 2015, in a speech of union state, Obama declared Venezuela as a threat to the American national security. (BBC, 2019)

During Obama government, the Venezuelan system approached two big geopolitical USA rivals, such as Russia (by giving legitimacy to Crimea annexation in 2014), China and Iran (recognising their Right of internally producing nuclear energy and breaking the diplomatic relations with Israel). During this period, the Venezuelan government also opposed to the north American external politic, condemning the murderer of the terrorist Osama Bin-Laden by USA in 2014, as well as the NATO intervention in Libya, in 2011. (BBC, 2019)

The relations between the two States had its climax of hostility on 23rd January 2019, during the Venezuelan presidential crisis, when Nicolás Maduro announced that Venezuela would break all the diplomatic bonds with USA after Donald Trump, President of USA, recognised Juan Guaidó, chairman of Venezuelan opposition as Interim President. The relations reached a point so critical that journalists and politic scientists foreseen a possible military intervention of USA in Venezuela. (BBC, 2020)

Happily, on 26th January, Maduro went back on his decision, neutralizing the situation. The relations grown weak once again last year, when two USA special forces ex-soldiers were caught between mercenaries, in May 2020, after a failed attempt of kidnapping the Venezuelan President. Maduro affirmed that this operation was planned by the USA government, something that de USA’s State Department decided not to comment … (Ward, 2020)

Since 2014, a heavy amount of economic sanctions set in great number by the USA has been choking the Venezuelan economy, constraining the population access to food supplies, medicines, fuel, electricity and drinking water. (Mello, 2020)

The first one hundred days of Joe Biden administration showed signs that they will keep recognising Juan Guaidó as Interim President. Remains to see if the administration will maintain the hostile process against Maduro’s government or choose a new strategy. (Contacto, 2021)

(Translated by Diana Varela Santos)


BBC . “Venezuela crisis: How the political situation escalated.” BBC News. 3rd  December 2020.

BBC. Venezuela profile – Timeline. 25th February 2019.

Contacto. “Joe Biden rejeita mudanças bruscas em relação à Venezuela e Cuba.” Contacto. 10th March 2021.

Jraissati, Jorge. “Venezuela strengthens relationship with Russia.” AA. 1st  April 2021.

Martz, John D. “Venezuela.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 16th May 2021.

Mello, Michele de. “Em seis anos de bloqueio, Venezuela foi alvo de 150 sanções e 11 tentativas de golpe.” Brasil de Fato. 8th October 2020.

Schwartz, Andrew. “An enduring relationship – from Russia with love.” Center for strategic and international studies. 24th September 2020.

Valuetainment. “Venezuela Collapse Explained.” Youtube. 26th February 2019.

VOX. “The collapse of Venezuela, explained.” Youtube. 25th August 2017.

Ward, Alex. “The “ridiculous” failed coup attempt in Venezuela, explained.” VOX. 11th May 2020.

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