US and Russia: developments in Venezuela

US and Russia: developments in Venezuela

On 14 May 2019, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met in Sochi. The main topic of discussion was the conflict in Venezuela, which has recently strained Russia-US relations. The meeting came two weeks after the most recent outbreak of violence in Venezuela, which has been caught in a power struggle since January 2019. The developments in the South American country prompted the latest round of talks between Russia and the US. However, a settlement between the two states still seems unlikely.

The recent conflict in Venezuela

The situation in Venezuela reached another crisis point on 30 April 2019 following a coup attempt against President Nicolás Maduro. The country has been deteriorating since January 2019 due to a struggle between Maduro and opposition leader Juan Guaidó. Guaidó has attempted to bring about an end to Maduro’s rule, resulting in the latest round of violence that saw thousands of protestors take to the streets.

The military uprising in the capital of Caracas took place following a video posted by Guaidó to his twitter. In this video, Guaidó encouraged supporters to take to the streets, declaring: “The time is now”. It has since been revealed that there was a plan for the military and security services to defect and for Maduro to fly to Cuba. At this point, Guaidó would have taken over as president until elections were held. However, this plan ultimately failed, with Maduro remaining in Venezuela.

Throughout the Venezuelan crisis, Russia and the US have found themselves on opposing sides. The US backs Guaidó’s claims to the presidency whilst Russia has declared its support for Maduro’s leadership. Opinions, when it came to the latest round of the conflict, were no different. At the same time as Donald Trump tweeted: “The United States stands with the People of Venezuela and their Freedom!”, Russia was called on the opposition to renounce the use of violence. Tension increased when the US blamed Russia for Maduro’s failure to leave Venezuela. Pompeo claimed Maduro “had an airplane on the tarmac” but was persuaded to stay by Moscow. Moscow, however, has denied these claims, arguing they are part of an “information war” against Russia by the US.

The US and Russia in conversation

Following the events in Venezuela, several talks have been held between Russian and US officials, including a visit from Pompeo to Sochi on 14 May. The first contact was a telephone call between Pompeo and Lavrov. During this call, Pompeo reiterated that Moscow was responsible for Maduro failing to leave Venezuela. Meanwhile, Lavrov warned that any attempts by the US to use military force in Venezuela would be a catastrophe.

A similar tone appears to have been struck in Sochi, despite Putin’s stating he sought to fully restore US-Russia relations. Indeed, no agreement has been reached on the settlement of the situation in Venezuela. During a joint news conference, Pompeo argued: “Maduro has brought nothing but misery to the Venezuelan people”. Meanwhile, Lavrov compared the US policy in Venezuela to the war in Iraq and the situation in Libya in 2011. The Russian Foreign Minister went on to say, “Threats by the U.S. administration have nothing to do with democracy.”

However, in a direct phone call between presidents Trump and Putin, Trump described the conversation as “very positive”. He assured that Putin is “not looking at all to get involved in Venezuela, other than he would like to see something positive happen”. These claims directly oppose Pompeo’s statements. This reflects the continued inconsistency in US foreign policy, both towards Russia and further afield. Such inconsistency threatens to complicate negotiations and, making it harder to reach an agreement on the issue in Venezuela.


Finding a solution to the crisis in Venezuela remains a pressing issue in current global affairs. The situation continues to have drastic effects both for the people of Venezuela and the surrounding region. The UN estimates there may be as many as 5.3 million refugees from Venezuela by the end of 2019. The conflict also impacts the world oil markets, as the country is the owner of the world’s largest oil reserves. Yet Venezuela’s oil production has fallen from 1.2 million barrels per day in January 2019 to just 476,000 per day in April. The conflict has also led to unstable oil prices, with the price jumping as much as 2% following the latest coup attempt, although they have since returned to normal.

However, until Russia and the US are able to reach an agreement, it is unlikely that the conflict will stop. Whilst the latest rounds of dialogue is a step in the right direction, with both sides identifying areas for potential cooperation, Venezuela was not included in this list. Instead, both sides remain unwilling to compromise due to their own interests, with Moscow wanting to protect its economic interests and prevent the US from expanding its sphere of influence. Tense talks such as those held in Sochi also threaten efforts to ease tensions between the two actors in other areas. Whilst a deal between Russia and the US remains doubtful, a search for peace in Venezuela continues. The latest efforts included several rounds of talks in Norway to try and find a solution to the crisis. However, no deal was struck and Guaidó has said that the opposition does not plan on further negotiations at this time.

Categories: Latin America, Politics

About Author

Rowan Hart

I am currently in the final year of an MPhil in Russian and East European Studies at the University of Oxford. Prior to that, I completed a Bachelor of Arts in Politics and International Relations at the University of Kent. There I wrote my thesis on Russia's relationship with the EU, for which I was awarded the Colin Seymour-Ure Prize for best undergraduate dissertation in Politics and IR. At Oxford I have continued to focus on Russia's institutional ties with Europe, currently researching Russia's relationship with the OSCE.