Venezuela’s Maduro Seeks 'Golden Finish' to 2018 with International Offensive as Russia & Turkey Blast US Sanctions

Economic, financial, political, military, and counter-terrorism ties were strengthened between Caracas and both countries.

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President Tayyip Erdogan holds a replica of the sword of national hero Simon Bolivar next to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during an agreement-signing ceremony between Turkey and Venezuela at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. (Manaure Quintero / Reuters)
President Tayyip Erdogan holds a replica of the sword of national hero Simon Bolivar next to Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro during an agreement-signing ceremony between Turkey and Venezuela at Miraflores Palace in Caracas, Venezuela. (Manaure Quintero / Reuters)
By Paul Dobson
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Merida, December 5, 2018 (venezuelanalysis.com) –Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has continued an end-of-year international diplomatic offensive this week, hosting Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and travelling to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Both of Caracas’ strategic allies reiterated their backing for the Latin American country, agreeing economic trade deals and speaking out against US-led sanctions and threats of a military action.

“We do not approve of these measures that ignore the rules of global trade (…) Commercial restrictions and sanctions are mistaken,” stated Erdogan from Caracas earlier this week. “Political problems cannot be resolved by punishing an entire nation,” he added.

The visit of the president of the NATO country followed official visits from Iran’s Foreign Minister Hojattolah Soltani and the President of the Supreme Assembly of North Korea Kim Yong Nam in previous weeks.

This year has also seen Venezuela strengthen relations with China, Vietnam, and India as part of diplomatic efforts which the Venezuelan government's claim look to “close 2018 with a golden touch in the strategic relations which Venezuela is constructing in the world.”

Erdogan’s visit reinforced political and economic ties between the two nations, with Maduro describing Turkey as “a friend of Venezuela,” and his counterpart proclaiming that “Turkey is on Venezuela’s side.” Erdogan, who has increasingly distanced Turkey from US influence in international affairs, has previously called Maduro “a friend and leader of a new multipolar world.”

Whilst neither party named the United States as the drivers of the Venezuelan sanctions, they did, however, denounce “manipulative attacks from certain countries and acts of sabotage from economic assassins” against Venezuela.

The United States has led international sanctions against Venezuela in recent years, with the European Union, Canada, Panama and other countries following suit. Most recently, US President Trump introduced sanctions against Venezuela’s gold industry, following financial sanctions which have created obstacles for international trade payments.

Other sanctions prohibit US firms to deal in Venezuelan debt, as well as bonds issued by state oil company PDVSA, and outlaw Venezuela’s cryptocurrency, the Petro. It has been estimated that these sanctions have cost Venezuela US $6 billion in lost revenues, and the sanctions have repeatedly been described as illegal by independent UN analysis.

The UK has also joined Washington in applying economic pressure by denying the repatriation of £420 million of Venezuelan gold held in the vaults of the Bank of England.

Joint Venezuelan-Turkish development

In contrast, economic ties between Caracas and Ankara have flourished in recent years. This year it is expected that commerce between the two nations will reach US $800 million, whilst agreements signed in Caracas this week look to raise this figure to US $1 billion as part of joint development plans which extend until 2030.

"We have laid the foundations for a very strong and dynamic relationship," Maduro told press upon unveiling commercial agreements allegedly worth US $5.1 billion. “We have opened up our hearts, and we appreciate this visit, in which we have signed agreements to advance in the economic, financial, scientific, mining, educational, and cultural fields.” Agreements were also signed in crime fighting, intelligence sharing, and counter-terrorism.

“Venezuela has many natural resources underground which Turkey doesn’t have,” stated Director of the Turkish Government's office Hayri Kucukyavuz. “But what it is lacking is the experience of Turkish firms in industrial manufacturing, trade, and services.”

Gold trade between Venezuela and Turkey has been increasing in recent years, with Caracas using Ankara as an alternative destination for the refining of its notable output since sanctions restricted trade with its traditional commercial partners. According to Turkish government figures, during the first nine months of 2018, Caracas sent US $900 million of gold to Turkey to be refined and then returned to the Central Bank of Venezuela.

Turkey has also been a key exporter of basic stables for the CLAP subsidised food program run by the Venezuelan government, an agreement which Erdogan seemed keen to continue.

“We are going to cover the majority of the needs of Venezuela,” promised Erdogan in Caracas.

Maduro in Moscow

Hot on the heels of Erdogan’s visit, Maduro flew to Moscow for a packed visit which is due include meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Head of the Federal Service for Technical Military Cooperation Dmitri Shugaev, Energy Minister Alexander Novak, Rosneft President Igor Sechin, Industry and Commerce Minister Denis Manturov, Vice Prime Minister Yuri Borisov, and Minister for Economic Development Maxim Oreshkin.

According to the Venezuelan president, the visit means to “strengthen and expand the diplomatic relations and friendly ties between the brotherly nations," as well as shore up military, political, counter-terrorism, and, most importantly, economic and financial relations.

Russia has offered economic assistance to Venezuela in recent years, most recently sending economic advisors to counsel Maduro’s government on ways to overcome the current economic crisis.

“Cooperation with Venezuela is one of the priorities of our policies in Latin America,” explained Kremlin advisor Yuri Ushakov in a press conference previous to Maduro’s arrival.

Last October, a visit by Maduro to Moscow enabled the restructuring of US $3 billion worth of international debt held by Russia, allowing more favourable, flexible and longer-term payment plans.

Ushakov also took the opportunity to blast US-led sanctions against Venezuela, as well as other efforts at achieving regime change in the country, which have included meetings between White House officials and rebel Venezuelan military commanders aimed at organising a coup d’état.

Contentious remarks from US President Trump, US Senator Marco Rubio, Organisation of American States Secretary General Luis Almagro, and Brazilian President-elect Jair Bolsonaro have all indicated that a military “option” is on the table for those governments seeking regime change in Venezuela,.

“All of the internal problems which exist should be solved through open dialogue by the Venezuelan political forces with respect for the constitutional norms (…) Naturally we condemn all actions of an evidently terrorist character, all attempted measures to overcome the situation through the use of force,” stated Ushakov.

Speaking at the presidential encounter in the Novo-Ogariovo presidential palace, Russian President Vladimir Putin also declared that “Russia condemns any attempt to change the situation in Venezuela by force.”

Speaking on the future of the Venezuelan economy, the Russian president expressed optimism.

"We have managed to turn around the negative trend, and this year we have seen concrete growth” in Venezuela’s trade with Russia, he told press, echoing statements made by his press secretary, Dmitri Peskov, who stated that his government has “observed modest signs of improvement.”

Colombia backs more sanctions

As Venezuela’s allies issued a condemnation of US-led sanctions, neighbouring Colombia spoke out in favour of them this week, with the new Foreign Minister Carlos Trujillo calling for “more, more, more” restrictive measures.

“Sanctions yes, directed against people close to the regime,” he told news agency Efe in Quito. “We must have more, more, more political and diplomatic action,” he went on to state, further describing sanctions as “important” and being “what was missing” to achieve regime change in Venezuela.

Trujillo did, however, distance himself from rumours of military action against Venezuela, stating that “Colombia is no friend of military solutions.”

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