Major Russian Defense Contractor Exits Venezuela In Huge Blow To Maduro

A major Russian defense contractor has pulled out of Venezuela and withdrawn most of its advisers in what appears to signal a broader Russian exit of defense support to the Maduro government.

The Wall Street Journal notes that it's a huge blow to Maduro — and though it appears primarily motivated by lack of confidence in Caracas' ability to pay the bills — this could mark the writing on the wall in terms of the future powerful backing of Maduro's biggest international supporter. It further comes as the US has vowed to keep up the pressure and after the Kremlin condemned what it called ongoing "US-backed coup attempts".

Prior file photo of Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino (center) during joint military exercises with Russia which involved the arrival of two Tupolev Tu-160 strategic long-range bombers on December 10, 2018. Image source: AFP/Getty photo

The WSJ reports the following details

Russian state defense contractor Rostec, which has trained Venezuelan troops and advised on securing arms contracts, has cut its staff in Venezuela to just a few dozen, from about 1,000 at the height of cooperation between Moscow and Caracas several years ago, said a person close to the Russian defense ministry.

The report describes a "gradual pullout" which has been noticeably ramping up of late, citing sources to say further it's due to "a lack of new contracts" and crucially "the acceptance that Mr. Maduro’s regime no longer has the cash to continue to pay for other Rostec services associated with past contracts."

The oil-rich but cash poor socialist country has long been deep in default on payments to international creditors, totaling in the billions owed to Russia and China alone with oil-for-debt swaps no longer able to keep up, given plummeting oil production over the past two decades since Huge Chavez's rule. 

Venezuelan-Russian-made Mil Mi-17 helicopters overfly a column of T-72B tanks during a military parade in 2017, via AFP/Getty

Among the benefits Russia and China received in their loans-for-oil Venezuela arrangements included having a defense and technology foothold in Latin America (Venezuela is Russia's biggest Latin American customer).

At the same time, Maduro has recently touted powerful global partners to fend off total global isolation, bolstering his domestic standing with promises that he has the backing to withstand US aggression. 

Rostec's pullout now greatly endangers that prior status quo, per the WSJ:

Rostec’s withdrawal of permanent and temporary employees is a major setback for Maduro, who has frequently touted assistance support from Russia and China as a sign that other global powers are willing to assist him in his bitter standoff against the U.S. Russian military support has been central to Maduro’s pledge to defend Venezuela from any foreign invasion.

Certainly Moscow will continue to give Caracas political and moral support, with even perhaps the occasional long-range bomber deployment like last December, yet such a visible withdrawal of Russian military contractors and technicians will be taken as a sign by Washington planners that Russia and other external backers won't actually go to bat for Maduro should the end of his regime draw near during the next crisis scenario, or if US military pressure and efforts turn more muscular.