Russia is set to hold war games in Venezuela, sending alarming signals throughout Latin America. The games also in a manner reflect Maduro’s diplomatic game with the United States.
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Snipers from Russia and other anti-American nations are participating in war games being conducted this week in Venezuela. The games, which have been compared to the Olympics for military, were planned to demonstrate that Moscow still has allies, some of whom are in Latin America, reports MSN.
Venezuela has taken part in the annual international war games since they began in 2015, when Russia annexed Crimea, but this year’s games are the first ones to be held in Latin America, and participants from Cuba, Bolivia, and Nicaragua are participating as well.
The tournaments also feature forces from Burma, Belarus, Abkhazia, Uzbekistan, China, India, Pakistan, and Indonesia, among others. Inaugurating the games on Monday, Venezuela’s defense minister Vladimir Padrino López said that these countries “daily condemn imperialist aggression against the peoples.”
The games are taking place while Russia is under fire for its military intrusion into Ukraine, an action that led to heavy economic penalties against Moscow from Europe and the United States as well as a clamor of denouncements from around the world.
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The aim of this year’s games is to show that Russia still has allies around the world, but many think that the premise that they are taking place in Venezuela may have a longer-lasting impact.
“In a sense, this seeks to normalize (and pave the way for) a larger military presence in Latin America,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of the Washington-based Center for a Secure Free Society. These games could pave the way for “larger military operations and games in the future” including not only Russia, but also China and Iran.
The initial flights of Iranian aircraft to Venezuela a few years ago provided a glimpse of this for the area. The planes, whose contents are still unknown, first alarmed Venezuelans and Nicolás Maduro regime observers tremendously but then became so common that no one noticed them, according to Humire.
“It is already normal for Venezuelans and today there are flights from Iran that are constantly arriving, that are participating in activities that are worrisome and alarming but that people are not paying attention anymore,” Humire said.
The competitions, where trained sniper teams from participating nations battle for accolades, are hosted at the Terepaima Military Fort, which is situated in the central-western state of Lara.
Although the number of soldiers in Venezuela has not been made public, experts believe that they could number in the hundreds given that the number of participating nations in prior war games was close to 30.
The competitions, which have in the past tested tank, artillery, and amphibious operations detachments, are expected to last until August 27. According to Evan Ellis, a professor of Latin American studies at the U.S. Army War College. They demonstrate the willingness of the Caracas government to use Venezuela as a base for a number of anti-American operations.
“Venezuela wanted to host these games, wanted to be one of the organizers and host this party and the host of other anti-American activities,” Ellis said.
According to retired colonel Isidro Pérez Villalobos of the Venezuelan National Guard, the friendship between Venezuela and Russia is already strong and the games aim to strengthen it even more. However, he continued, the games also aim to promote Moscow’s and other participating nations’ weaponry shipments in the area, though perhaps not necessarily to regular military forces.
According to the Venezuelan military officer, the occasion “serves as a conclave for merchants of sophisticated weapons to transnational terrorist organizations that operate in Latin America with the support of the Venezuelan regime.”
The games also in a manner reflect Maduro’s diplomatic game with the United States, which on the one hand demonstrates his desire to take part in negotiations with Washington to improve relations while attempting to bolster his ties with Moscow.
And the fact that the United States is prepared to cooperate with Maduro demonstrates both its lack of foresight in dealing with Venezuela and its failure to pay enough attention to what China, Iran, and Russia are doing in the area, according to Pérez Villalobos.
“In the United States they downplay Russia’s presence in Venezuela, but they are everywhere in the country,” said Pérez Villalobos . “They are arms suppliers, they are oil and economic partners, they are political allies and now they sponsor military competitions.”
By holding these games in Venezuela, he said, “Russia is telling the United States: ‘I can also come to your backyard. You want to get into the Baltic countries, in Ukraine, and in the geo-historical spaces of Russia? Well, I also get into your spaces.”