Vladimir Putin has a knack for cozying up to illegitimate regimes. Butcher Assad, Raúl Castro, and now-former President Yanukovych all call Russia their friend. Now it looks like Putin is ready to add new comrades to the list.
A Venezuelan news site, El Nacional, claims that Russia is in the final stages of cementing an agreement with Venezuela to set up military bases there. Unsurprisingly, Maduro’s brutal crackdown on anti-government protesters in recent days doesn’t bother the Kremlin. Citing Russian Defense Minister Serguéi Shoigú, the report mentions that Russia is also working on agreements for bases in Cuba and Nicaragua, which has seen its fair share of repression under an increasingly authoritarian President.
This means a few things. Back home, Putin is trying to bolster his narrative that Russia is back on top. His KGB background ensures that he understands the value of cheap publicity in foreign policy, and headlines like these make him look taller (or a little less short) than he is. But he has sided with the B-listers in Maduro and Castro; bigger players like Mexico and Brazil don’t seem to be interested.
That Russia is building ties with the least democratic and most anti-American governments in the hemisphere should help us as we gaze into his eyes and try to see his soul. He doesn’t actually like us very much, and doesn’t wish us well. This kind of stuff is particularly problematic for the two flexibility experts in DC—Kerry and Obama—who have consistently reached out to Russia in hopes of a better or at least more pragmatic understanding.
It’s hard to think of many goals that the Obama administration has pursued so consistently as the reset with Russia. News like this reminds us that it may have all been in vain.