Streetwise Professor

April 13, 2019

The Russians Aren’t There to Spread Disorder; They are There to Maintain Disorder

Filed under: China,Commodities,Economics,Energy,Politics,Russia — cpirrong @ 4:41 pm

This headline in Bloomberg made me chuckle and think of a famous malapropism from Mayor Daley I: “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder; the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”

The Russians (and the Chinese) are not in Venezuela to create (or spread) disorder, the Russians are in Venezuela to preserve disorder. Quite literally. Because they are there to preserve Maduro, and Maduro has created such chaos and misery that “disorder” seems far too mild a word to describe it. So adapting Mayor Daley’s words to the Russians in Venezuela, it wouldn’t be a malapropism–it would be descriptively accurate. An understatement, even.

Yes, I understand that permitting foreign interference in the Western Hemisphere violates just short of 200 years of American policy, and this is not a precedent we want to set. But in comparison to say the French in Mexico in the 1860s, this is truly small beer.

And consider the fate of Maximillian et al. Not a precedent that the Russians or Chinese should want to emulate.

Venezuela is a disaster–the world’s largest tar baby (literally, in some respects, given the physical characteristics of Venezuelan crude oil). The Russians and Chinese are actually fools if they think that propping up this disastrous regime–which is on the verge of overseeing a record setting decline in economic output–will increase their odds of getting paid back the billions they lent. Every day that Maduro continues in power, and the catastrophe metastasizes, makes the prospects of recovering even a few kopecs all the more remote.

If recouping some of their debt is an objective, the Russians and Chinese would actually be far better off killing Maduro, overthrowing his thugs, and making a deal with the opposition. But Putin and Xi are doubling down on a regime that makes the phrase “failed state” seem like a compliment.

Putin also views an outpost in Venezuela as a military provocation to the US. Whatever. At over 5400 miles from Russia (and over 9000 miles from Shanghai), that outpost would be utterly unsustainable if push came to shove with the US. Russia has no ability to sustain it logistically over that distance–nor does China, really, even though its navy and sealift are not as decrepit as Russia’s.

Fools put bases in places they can’t support. Complete fools put bases in places that they can’t support AND which are located in places that are descending into a state that the creators of Mad Max would have found fantastical.

So let Putin add Venezuela to his collection of failed state allies. It will be an ulcer, not an asset.

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  1. They have to decide which is more important, pride and influence or money. To get the money, as you say, they have to support regime change so that someone sane can let the economy rebuild. But that would be too embarrassing.

    Comment by Howard Roark — April 13, 2019 @ 8:17 pm

  2. “Russians are in Venezuela to preserve disorder”

    This describes Russian interventions almost anywhere, for at least the last 100 years. You are catching on 🙂

    As for the Chinese – no idea, they seem to be in the colonization for the sake of raw materials extraction phase that Western empires went through a while ago.

    “If recouping some of their debt is an objective”

    What indications are there that it is?

    Could it be that knocking out Venezuelan crude supply is earning the Russians way more than they spent on maintaining disorder through Maduro?

    Comment by Ivan — April 14, 2019 @ 4:06 am

  3. It’s presumably in the Russian interest to keep oil prices high by preserving Venezuelan chaos. But China presumably wants low oil prices; so what is it up to?

    Comment by dearieme — April 14, 2019 @ 3:08 pm

  4. Like the Russians, they think that this is a blow against the running dog Americans. The enemy of my enemy is my friend, even if said country is a complete and utter shambles.

    Comment by cpirrong — April 15, 2019 @ 5:28 pm

  5. #4: I doubt it. I suspect that they are taking a longer view. When the chaos ends they’d like first dibs on the oil.

    Comment by dearieme — April 16, 2019 @ 4:51 am

  6. Actually, Venezuela seems one of the few places that might be amenable to negotiation between the US, Russia – and China. Russia has invested tens of billions in Venezuela- China even more. I suspect they could care less about Maduro and Chavismo. They do want to protect their investments.
    Ukraine has emotional and strategic considerations for Russia. Hard to figure out how to negotiate a resolution. Venezuela seems to be all about investments already made. Cold cash is simpler to resolve.

    Comment by AndyEss — April 17, 2019 @ 9:00 pm

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