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Future of Maduro is rapidly becoming a proxy contest between the U.S. and Russia

Moscow and Beijing are both sticking with Maduro for now, but neither has much appetite for extending new loans.

UNITED STATES, Miami (Intranews).- When the Kremlin intervened in Syria, Assad’s regime was largely seen as on the verge of collapse. The Russian intervention stabilized the government and was responsible for Assad’s de facto victory in the Syrian civil war. The move cost the Kremlin little and allowed it to reap an enormous propaganda victory.

A similar outcome in Venezuela, arguably America’s backyard, would be an even more significant propaganda victory. From a practical standpoint, Moscow has little choice. Only by keeping the Maduro government in power does the Kremlin have any hope of getting back the billions of dollars that Venezuela owes the Russian government and Russian companies.

The Trump administration, past saber rattling notwithstanding, has little appetite for a military intervention in Venezuela. Brazil and Colombia have significant militaries and could argue they have humanitarian reasons for intervening, but a full-scale military invasion of Venezuela, by either country, would be highly unpopular. Moreover, neither country has the wherewithal to stage a military intervention in Venezuela without considerable logistical support from the U.S. and, in all likelihood, the backing of American air power.

For now, economic sanctions remain the best alternative for forcing a change in Venezuela. U.S. sanctions are set to ratchet up in May and to make it virtually impossible for Venezuela to sell most of its oil. Even without sanctions, the country’s oil output continues to drop. Barring a dramatic spike in oil prices, Venezuela simply cannot produce enough oil to fund its government.

Moscow and Beijing are both sticking with Maduro for now, but neither has much appetite for extending new loans. According to Chinese sources, Beijing did extend a $5 billion loan in September but has not made any new loans since. It’s not clear how much, if any, of that loan has been disbursed. Venezuela has borrowed a total of $54 billion from China against future oil shipments. Roughly $30 billion has been paid back and $24 billion is still outstanding.

In a drama that has played out in South America countless times, it will be the decision of the military to abandon Maduro that will finally spell his death knell. To date, the senior leadership of the Venezuelan military shows no sign they are ready to abandon the government. Only about 1,000 military personnel out of a force of approximately 123,000 have defected. Most of them have elected to seek asylum overseas rather than stay and join the opposition movement.

The Maduro government has been very successful in maintaining the loyalty of the senior military leadership through a combination of money, food and power from a lucrative patronage network based on government largesse and black market and illegal activities that include narcotics trafficking and gun running. If the military ever abandons the government, there will be little that the Kremlin can do to avoid a collapse. Until then, Moscow will continue to double down on Nicolas Maduro.

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