Russia Has Stake in Venezuelan Ruling Party’s Victory

Russia could lose an ally if Venezuela’s socialists lose the election.

Russia has an interest in seeing former Venezuelan vice president Nicolás Maduro emerge as the Latin American nation’s leader from next month’s election. His challenger, Miranda governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, is less anti-American than the ruling party’s candidate and champions a liberal economic and trade policy.

Maduro will stand as the socialist party’s candidate in an election that was triggered by former president Hugo Chávez’ death last week. If elected, which opinion polls show is likely, Maduro is not expected to push for significant changes in economic or foreign policy. He hasn’t so much as hinted at liberalization but like Chávez, has been fiercely critical of the United States which just a day before his mentor’s death, he accused having poisoned the president.

As it is their closest, if not only, strategic partner in Latin America, the outcome of the presidential election in Venezuela concerns the Russians. The country has bought billions of dollars worth of Russian arms throughout Chávez’ presidency and the two held a joint naval exercise in the Caribbean in 2008.

Sergei Lavrov, the foreign minister, Valentina Matviyenko, the ruling party’s leader in the senate, and Igor Sechin, the chief executive of state oil company Rosneft, are scheduled to attend Chávez’ funeral on Friday.

Lavrov said in a television interview on Saturday that he hoped “Chávez’ heritage will further strengthen” the Russian-Venezuelan relationship. Sechin predicted, “We will work even more actively” with the country.

Sechin, who sealed a $4 billion Russian loan to Venezuela when he was deputy prime minister in 2011 so the country could continue buying Russian weapons, has much to lose if the nation changes its foreign policy, writes Alexander Bratersky in The Moscow Times.

Sechin’s Rosneft is engaged in a long-term partnership with Venezuela’s state-owned oil giant PDVSA, with the two companies developing the Junin-6 heavy oilfield jointly with Russian oil major Lukoil. Rosneft has pledged to invest $10 billion in the field’s development.

Lukoil’s vice president said on Friday that the company would increase its oil production in Venezuela if the political situation there remained stable.

Venezuela’s oil reserves at estimated to be the world’s largest yet at three million barrels per day, it is only the tenth largest exporter and even a net importer of refined products owing to an underdeveloped hydrocarbon industry that was nationalized under Chávez’ government. Venezuela sells roughly a third of its oil to the United States.