In what seems to be a Cold-War era tactic, Russia has once again attempted to assert its dominance in the Western Hemisphere. On Jan. 13, a senior Russian official threatened the deployment of “military infrastructure” to Venezuela. This comes after continued talks between Ukraine, Russia, and the United States to de-escalate tensions at the Ukrainian border. Although not deemed by the U.S government as a legitimate threat of violence, this action nevertheless signals the hold and influence of Putin in Venezuela. In this case, a foreign body having the power to announce the possible deployment of military to a sovereign state points to symptoms of democratic erosion.
Russia is currently providing a lifeline to an authoritarian regime in Venezuela that uses its powers to commit human rights, abuses, election fraud, and increase its control over civil society. in recent months, increased international involvement in Venezuela signals a corrupt government willing to accept economic support in exchange for medicine, food, as well as security in the international arena. Russia’s economic support of Venezuela does not come without a price, though. The stability that Russia’s support may provide to Venezuelan citizens is counteracted by the fact that it simultaneously props up a corrupt dictatorships that undermines democratic processes.
In addition to the delegitimization of the media, electoral processes, and other branches of government the powerful influence of the Russian government in Venezuela helps illuminate other signs of democratic erosion in the country. The assertiveness of the Russian government in their ability to deploy, station, and use military equipment in Venezuela is not only cause for worry for the U.S, but also signals very strong ties between both Putin and Maduro.
The Russian presence in Venezuela smells of the days of Soviet influence in Cuba more than half a century ago and just like in Cuba the presence of a foreign military power exerting its influence signals the decay of democracy. Unlike in Cuba, it is evident that Maduro has adopted the ways of stealth authoritarianism, in which authoritarian actions are taken under the guise of democracy. The possibility of Russian military infrastructure would have violate the Venezuelan Constitution of 1999, but the addition of Maduro’s version of the National Assembly in2015 would in theory allow for the presence of foreign military. Maduro’s creation of this new legislative body is an example of a supposed democratic body existing for the sole purpose of authorizing Maduro’s desired actions. This serves as another example of how the possibility of Russian presence in Venezuela brings to light many factors that demonstrate the erosion of democracy.
The Venezuelan government’s efforts at creating a meaningful relationship with ehRussians serves not just to uphold the status quo of power domestically, but also to establish their legitimacy abroad. This need to establish legitimacy with the aid of international actors comes as no surprise, given the recognition of opposing party leader, Juan Guaído, as president incumbent of Venezuela in 1029 by the international community, including the U.S
The reliance on Russia in establishing Maduro’s legitimacy is not in itself a symptom of democratic erosion, rather this reliance reinforces the fact that the Venezuelan government has taken actions that prevent democratic processes to take place and is now seeking to reestablish its perception as the party in control in Venezuela. For Maduro, cooperation with Russia means global legitimacy, as it allows past claims of electoral fraud to be seen as insignificant as he continue to hold enough power not make agreements with one of the most powerful governments in the world. This collaboration of one autocratic state with another, reinforces both governments as autocratic, and lacking support from democratic countries around the world.