A Russian Air Force Base in Venezuela

At a time when the Russian economy has been seriously compressed by NATO sanctions and a shrinking oil price, the presidency less popular than ever and assailed for cutting pensions, Vladimir Putin seems to want to go the way of his French counterpart. Regardless of the absurd addition to costs with no real strategic return, he now intends basing Tu-160 bombers in Venezuela. To be precise on the island of La Orchila, some 200 kilometres north-east of the capital, Caracas. Already host to a Venezuelan military base, it is otherwise known for an extraordinary pink beach. Russian pilots will love it. At least someone will benefit. Lucky them!

Back in 2008 President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, himself a former pilot, made the proposal for a Russian air base to Russian President Medvedev, who was holding the fort while Putin bided his time in the prime ministerial anteroom before he could stand again as president. But Venezuela was not supposed to host foreign military bases and doubtless the Russians could not imagine why they should want one. It is certainly not going to help the current president, Maduro, survive in the face of popular hostility against a background of horrendous impoverishment.

Somehow someone in the Defence Ministry in Moscow thought this up as a death defying retort to the Americans for announcing that they intended withdrawing from the treaty on medium and intermediate range nuclear missile systems that Gorbachev signed thirty-one years ago. But it is evidently more than that. Nezavisimaya gazeta today reports that “The Russian Federation is preparing a long term military presence in Central America.” At most this will make the Pentagon’s resistance to intended budget cuts easier. It may even awake the administration to attend to its policies towards Latin America in a way that the Caravan in Tijuana has not. Other than that it has no reason to induce much more than a prolonged yawn.