Pompeo: Maduro was ready to leave Venezuela this morning -- until the Russians talked him out of it

If it’s a lie, it’s a lie in service to a good cause. Guaido’s supporters and members of the military who are loyal to him might take heart from it. Maduro’s supporters and military loyalists will denounce it as Yanqui propaganda but maybe with a quaver in their voices. Imagine being a Venezuelan officer trying to decide whether to stick with Maduro and hearing that he might be preparing to bug out, abandoning you to your fate.

The fact that Pompeo blames the Russians for convincing him to stay is interesting too. It’s very far removed from the Resistance’s working theory that Trump is a Putin stooge. And it’s gratuitous: He could have omitted that detail if he’d wanted to. He didn’t.

“We’ve watched throughout the day, it’s been a long time since anyone’s seen Maduro,” Pompeo said in an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on “The Situation Room.”

“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it and the Russians indicated he should stay.”

“He was headed for Havana,” Pompeo said.

The Secretary of State refused to say whether Maduro would be permitted to safely depart for Cuba, instead saying that “Mr. Maduro understands what will happen if he gets on that airplane.”

Assume it’s true. What did Putin offer Maduro to convince him to stay and risk becoming South America’s answer to Assad? There are in fact Russian troops in Venezuela as we speak, although reportedly only a small contingent. They may be there to ward off military action by, well, us: VOA reported yesterday that the Russians are probably tasked with operating Venezuela’s aging Russian-made S-300 air-defense missiles in case Trump decides to authorize a bombing run or a no-fly zone in support of Guaido. Two months ago John Bolton explicitly invoked the Monroe Doctrine to justify U.S. interest in seeing Maduro ousted and the unrest in Venezuela end. Where do we stand Monroe-wise on Moscow putting a thumb on the scale for Venezuela and deploying troops to the country?

Pompeo’s insistence on blaming Russia for Maduro’s continued presence is a brushback pitch, I assume, a warning that Trump’s interest in rapprochement with Moscow will sour if they make trouble for him in Venezuela. Civil war would mean a refugee crisis in the making for Central America and eventually the United States, which I’m sure makes it that much more appetizing for Putin. A refugee crush fueled by Syria’s civil war contributed to the immigration crisis that destabilized European governments, weakened Merkel, and led to the rise of Putin-friendly right-wing parties there. He probably believes that turning Venezuela into Syria would do something similar regionally and maybe have secondary effects in the U.S. by deepening the split between America’s left and right over immigration. In the meantime, any opportunity he has to project power abroad reinforces perceptions back home that he’s restored Russia to true “great power” status, the equal of the United States. Flouting the Monroe Doctrine and operating in Venezuela would make that perception that much more vivid.

Trump’s less focused on Russia than on Cuba, which by some estimates has 15,000 military and intelligence operatives on the ground there. That feels a bit like Syria too, with Cuba playing the Iran role as a regional power rushing to the aide of an ideological ally partly in solidarity and partly to protect its own influence by beating back revolutionaries whose success might eventually threaten it too.


We already have a comprehensive economic embargo on Cuba and Trump undid many of Obama’s measures relaxing certain U.S. policies towards the Castro regime two years ago. I assume he means a return to the full pre-Obama status quo ante if Cuba doesn’t pull out. But they’re not going to pull out, as seeing Maduro fall might give freedom-minded Cubans funny ideas about Castro departing too. What does Trump do if both Castro and Putin ignore him and begin prosecuting a war for Maduro against Guaido?

Here’s Pompeo on CNN. Bolton warned Russia today not to meddle but I don’t think they’re listening.