#33 - JRL 2009-169 - JRL Home
Moscow Times
September 11, 2009
Venezuela Recognizes Rebel Regions
By Nikolaus von Twickel and Alex Anishyuk

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez announced Thursday that his country would join Russia and Nicaragua in recognizing the independence of Georgia’s rebel republics, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

A smiling President Dmitry Medvedev promised that Russia would deliver arms to Venezuela.

A Kremlin aide denied any quid pro quo between Moscow and Caracas on the recognition issue.

Chavez said during a meeting at Medvedev’s Barvikha residence outside Moscow that his country would consider the two regions ­ viewed by most of the world as part of Georgia ­ as sovereign states “from today.”

“Venezuela is joining the recognition of the independence of the republics of Abkhazia and South Ossetia,” Chavez said, according to a transcript of the talks on the Kremlin’s web site.

Medvedev responded that Russia would deliver tanks to Venezuela. “We will supply tanks, we have good tanks,” he said.

A military source told RIA-Novosti that Venezuela would buy 100 tanks.

Moscow recognized South Ossetia and Abkhazia as independent on Aug. 26 last year after crushing a Georgian attempt to retake South Ossetia, which split from Tbilisi’s rule in the early 1990s.

The decision drew scathing criticism from the West and until Thursday had only been followed by Nicaragua.

Georgian officials reacted with scorn to Chavez’s announcement, saying Venezuela was a rogue state. Georgi Kandelaki, the deputy head of the Georgian parliament’s international affairs committee, told The Moscow Times that Venezuela was not an ally Moscow should be proud of. “If Russia has no other friends but Hugo Chavez, then this does not speak very highly of Russia’s position in the world,” he said by telephone from Tbilisi.

Kandelaki insisted that the West’s broad opposition to Russia’s invasion of Georgia in the brief war in August 2008 would not change. “This does not increase the legitimacy of Russia’s invasion of Georgia,” he said.

Apart from Nicaragua, the Hamas government in Gaza has been the only other entity to recognize the independence of the two republics. Announcements of pending recognition from Somalia and Western Sahara have not been followed up.

Analysts agreed that Venezuela’s accession to the club of countries recognizing the republics would have little impact.

“Obviously this will not make [Abkhazia and South Ossetia] full members of the international community,” said Oksana Antonenko, a senior fellow with the International Institute of Strategic Studies in London.

Antonenko pointed out that not even Moscow’s closest allies in the former Soviet Union have followed suit.

Belarussian leader Alexander Lukashenko has been tipped to be close to recognizing Abkhazia and South Ossetia but has shied away because his country depends on Western loans to avoid bankruptcy.

Antonenko said Venezuela could easily afford the decision. “Chavez has nothing to lose. He has very bad relations with the United States, and he wants nothing from the Europeans,” she said.

Chavez held talks with Lukashenko in Minsk before arriving in Moscow for his eighth visit to Russia.

Speculation was rife Wednesday about whether the Kremlin had offered any compensation to Caracas.

During a visit to Orenburg last fall, Chavez accepted a $1 billion loan to buy Russian arms but said only that Venezuela fully supported Moscow in the Georgia conflict.

Chavez and Medvedev were to sign 10 agreements on energy military and space cooperation Thursday, but Kremlin aide Sergei Prikhodko said this should not be viewed as a quid pro quo.

Russia and Venezuela will open a joint bank with an initial capital of $4 billion to finance joint projects, Medvedev said after the talks. He did not say where the bank’s money would come from.

Chavez accused the United States of monopolizing global asset markets and said he hoped that the ruble would soon become a global reserve currency, a statement that should please Medvedev, who has advocated this since last year.

“Sooner or later this bubble will burst,” Chavez said in reference to the dollar’s position. “We expect that the ruble will become part of the world’s reserve currency system, and that maybe also the [Chinese] yuan and the [Venezuelan] bolivar will become such currencies.”

Alexei Malashenko, an analyst with the Carnegie Moscow Center, said Russia was clearly paying for Venezuela’s move. “The recognition was bought from him. Look at the list of arms [Chavez] is buying,” he said.

Vladimir Davydov, the director of the Latin-America Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, countered that Chavez could not be bought. “He is a highly independent leader who has followed nothing but his own interests for the past 10 years,” he said.

He was echoed by Konstantin Makiyenko, an analyst with the Center for Analysis of Strategies and Technologies, who said discussions on loans for arms purchases have been ongoing since 2006, when Abkhazia and South Ossetia were not on the agenda.

“Even then, Moscow was quite positive on granting money, so I would not link them to Chavez’s recent statement,” he said.

Back in Venezuela, the opposition accused Chavez of selling his country to Moscow.

“By spending millions of dollars on Russian arms, Chavez serves Russian interests to earn money, not the ones of his people,” Israel Camero, a political analyst with the Nuevo Tiempo (New Time) opposition party, told The Moscow Times.

He added that the real bill would be even higher because Russian arms had high maintenance costs ­because of their low quality.

Camero said Chavez’s only reason to recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia was to please Russia and anger the West. “Chavez is a provocateur, he wants to get a negative reaction from Washington in order to support his image of a revolutionary,” he said by telephone from Caracas.

The path from Chavez’s announcement to a legally binding recognition of the separatist republics could be long.

“For one state to recognize another, you need more than a president’s word,” Malashenko said.

Nicaragua’s parliament, for one, has not yet confirmed President Daniel Ortega’s decision last September to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia.

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