The Russian military is on the ground in Venezuela in growing numbers

While we were all waiting for the Mueller Report with breathless anticipation, events in another part of the world were taking a dark turn. Embattled Venezuelan dictator Nicolas Maduro has been propped up by the Russians ever since his country began to collapse, but that support jumped to a new level yesterday. Russian military aircraft packed with troops arrived in Caracas. An already volatile situation has now shifted gears to become even more explosive. (Reuters)

Two Russian air force planes landed at Venezuela’s main airport on Saturday carrying a Russian defense official and nearly 100 troops, according to media reports, amid strengthening ties between Caracas and Moscow.

A flight-tracking website showed that two planes left from a Russian military airport bound for Caracas on Friday, and another flight-tracking site showed that one plane left Caracas on Sunday.

That comes three months after the two nations held military exercises on Venezuelan soil that President Nicolas Maduro called a sign of strengthening relations, but which Washington criticized as Russian encroachment in the region.

One hundred troops and various bits of military gear may not sound like much of an army, but the symbolic value is very real. The Russian Air Force has already been active in Venezuela for several months and now they’re being beefed up with ground troops. Vladimir Putin has assumed effective control of the nation’s oil company via all the cash he’s been funneling into Caracas to keep Maduro afloat. So how does this affect the current political and humanitarian crisis the country is experiencing?

If it turns out that the Russians are the only thing keeping Nicolas Maduro in power, they probably won’t be going away any time soon. And at that point, Venezuela will have effectively become a client state of the Russians. They’ve traditionally had a similar arrangement with Cuba, but this puts the Russian fingerprint right in the heart of Central and South America. It’s difficult to imagine that Venezuela’s neighbors will be too thrilled with this development.

Similarly, the longer Maduro can remain in power and keep his own military’s loyalty, the less likely we will be to see any sort of orderly transition of power to Juan Guaido. And if he’s left hanging for too long, Maduro will have him picked up and thrown into a prison cell sooner or later. Protests by Guaido’s supporters have continued in Caracas and Valencia, but the Maduro regime has recently begun funding armed motorcycle gangs to break up demonstrations and act as government brute squads.

None of Maduro’s neighbors are likely to take him on directly with any sort of military invasion. The odds of that happening are even lower now that the Russians are on the ground. The United States would be insane to launch a military invasion to install a new government. So where does that leave the people of Venezuela? Not in a good place, because Maduro may just wind up outlasting all of this unrest and remaining in power, even if it’s as a puppet for Moscow.