Back in 2004, I remember discussing the disturbing political convergence happening in both Russia and Venezuela with an American journalist, arguing that a unique blend of resource nationalism, populism, and repressive authoritarianism was beginning to take root in parallel processes, eventually establishing the basis for a new alliance. I was quite nearly laughed out of the office of this journalist, who refused to believe that there was any reason to take Russia’s new diplomatic efforts in Latin America, and its relationship with Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez especially, with any degree of sincerity or concern. Somehow I don’t think that I would have quite as much trouble pushing that argument today. For those looking for a quick catch-up piece, Ellen Barry’s article in today’s New York Times lays out the latest critical developments, including the Medvedev-Chavez orchestrated oil deal which Chavez compares to “a colossus being born.” So when can we stop pretending that nobody knew this was coming?
There seems to be a real dearth of research and awareness on the Russia-Venezuela convergence, apart from one old academic paper, and a couple of columnists who occasionally draw the comparisons. This is especially troubling to me, and frustrating to see Washington reacting to Russia’s direct challenge of the Monroe Doctrine and feigning shock and surprise.Furthermore, the most important reason to start taking these Latin American adventures seriously is that the region has become a pet project of Igor Sechin, arguably the most powerful silovik in Russia, chief architect of the Yukos theft and jailing of Mikhail Khodorkovsky, warrior of the clan wars, and the multi-billionaire chairman of Rosneft. A guy like Sechin, who is believed to have mastered his Spanish as a KGB spy in Angola, is not one who wastes time on simply symbolic fear-mongering projects. Russia’s aims in Latin America are lofty, serious and concretely strategic.