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Politics, Business, or Both in Venezuela?

From today’s Financial Times about Dmitry Medvedev’s extended trip to Latin America, figuratively following in the footsteps of China’s Hu Jintao:

“The Russians want to demonstrate that two can play at this game,” said Dmitry Simes of the Nixon Centre in Washington.

“Clearly, the visit is a gesture towards the US,” he said. “While business is a consideration, and Russian clearly has business interests in Venezuela, I don’t think you need to send President Medvedev for this. The trip is motivated by politics.”

Others think we would be best to curb our concerns over the Russia-Venezuela relationship, pointing out that it really doesn’t work as a tit-for-tat expression of spheres of influence.  A while back Joshua Keating wrote:  “Chávez and Evo Morales certainly aren’t well-liked in Washington, but most foreign-policy mavens here see them more as angry buffoons or strategic obstacles, not serious threats to America’s sovereignty. (…) But the Kremlin shouldn’t think that Americans will fret about developments in Bolivia in the same way that Russians worry about Georgia or Ukraine.

OK, if geopolitics and security are negligible, that leaves business – and given the presence of Russia’s most famous oil bureaucrat in Venezuela, private income may be the biggest motivation at play here.  Certainly we can be confident that Venezuela’s independent pursuit of a relationship with a distant foreign power won’t likely end up becoming the justification for invasion by the United States – but then again Moscow and Washington have always had different conceptions of empire.