Kremlin Rallies To Defend Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro

Jan 25, 2019
Originally published on January 25, 2019 5:31 am
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The United States no longer recognizes Nicolas Maduro as the leader of Venezuela. The U.S. is promoting an opposition leader instead, but Maduro still has friends, including Russian President Vladimir Putin. Here's NPR's Lucian Kim.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: After the Trump administration announced that it no longer considers Nicolas Maduro to be Venezuela's legitimate president, the Kremlin has been denouncing the move as a typical example of American unilateralism and regime change. On Thursday, President Vladimir Putin called the Venezuelan leader.

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PRESIDENT NICOLAS MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

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KIM: Speaking at a ceremony in Venezuela's supreme court, Maduro said he had spoken with Putin for 20 minutes.

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MADURO: (Speaking Spanish).

KIM: Maduro said Putin told him he could count on unconditional support and even greater economic aid. Russia is deeply interested in the survival of the Maduro regime, having invested billions of dollars in Venezuela's economy. If Cuba used to be Moscow's closest ally in Latin America during the Cold War, now it's Venezuela, which is far more attractive because of its lucrative oil industry. The fact that Maduro's predecessor, Hugo Chavez, was defiantly anti-American made Venezuela an ideal partner.

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PRESIDENT VLADIMIR PUTIN: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: In December, Putin hosted Maduro outside Moscow, voicing his full backing for his already embattled regime. Less than a week later, Putin sent two long-range bombers 6,000 miles to Venezuela as covered here by the Kremlin's English language news channel Russia Today.

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UNIDENTIFIED BROADCASTER: Here it is. One of the two Russian Tupolev Tu-160 strategic, nuclear-capable bombers has just landed here in Venezuela. Wow, spectacular.

KIM: At the time, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said two corrupt governments were squandering public funds while their own people suffer. Putin's domestic critics are finding inspiration in President Trump's recognition of an opposition figure, Juan Guaido, as Venezuela's legitimate leader. Alexei Navalny, Russia's most outspoken opposition politician, called Trump's decision outstanding and drew parallels with Russia whose people are poor despite the country's enormous oil wealth.

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ALEXEI NAVALNY: (Speaking Russian).

KIM: Speaking on his weekly webcast, Navalny said Chavez and Maduro have brought Venezuela to the brink of catastrophe and calculated that every Russian has involuntarily invested more than $100 in the Latin American country. Navalny, however, is still just a Russian opposition leader. And Putin, for his part, is ready to stake even more in Maduro's government. Lucian Kim, NPR News, Moscow.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.