Russia, Turkey back Venezuela’s Maduro, while West turns up heat

File photo. A supporter of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro waves a flag during a motorcade in his honor in Caracas, Venezuela, 7 January 2019. [Miguel Gutierrez/EPA/EFE]

Russia accused the United States on Thursday (24 January) of trying to usurp power in Venezuela and warned against military intervention, putting it at odds with Washington and the EU which backed protests against one of Moscow’s closest allies.

Venezuelan opposition leader Juan Guaidó declared himself interim leader on Wednesday, winning the support of Washington and parts of Latin America. That prompted socialist President Nicolas Maduro, who has led the oil-rich nation since 2013, to sever diplomatic ties with the United States.

The prospect of Maduro being ousted is a geopolitical and economic headache for Moscow which, alongside China, has become a creditor of last resort for Caracas, lending it billions of dollars as its economy implodes. Moscow has also helped its military and oil industry and provided wheat.

Russia on Thursday accused Washington of stoking street protests and called Maduro the legitimate president.

“We consider the attempt to usurp sovereign authority in Venezuela to contradict and violate the basis and principles of international law,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said.

The Russian Foreign Ministry said an outside military intervention could have “catastrophic consequences.”

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan offered support for Maduro too. “My brother Maduro! Stand tall, we stand by you!” presidential spokesman Ibrahim Kalin, writing on Twitter, quoted Erdoğan as saying.

China also said it supported efforts to protect Venezuela’s independence and stability.

EU support for opposition

The European Union, which has imposed sanctions on Venezuela and boycotted Maduro’s swearing-in for a second term earlier this month, took a more nuanced tack.

Although it stopped short of following Washington and recognising Guaidó as interim president, it appealed for him to be protected and appeared to support calls for a peaceful transition of power away from Maduro.

EU reluctant to recognise self-proclaimed Venezuela president, calls for elections

Amid growing pressure by Latin American presidents to recognise the self-proclaimed president of Venezuela, opposition leader Juan Guaidó, the EU is reluctant to follow the steps of the US and instead called on Thursday (24 January) for “free and fair elections”.

“The people of Venezuela have massively called for democracy and the possibility to freely determine their own destiny. These voices cannot be ignored,” the 28-nation bloc said.

The biggest group in the European Parliament, the centre-right European People’s Party, said it recognised Guaidó as interim president and would call on the whole parliament to do so next week as a senior lawmaker urged Maduro to quit.

French President Emmanuel Macron saluted Venezuelans marching for freedom. Germany, Switzerland and Portugal called for free elections, and Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez told Guaidó he supported the Venezuelan parliament.

Britain said Maduro’s 2018 election was neither free nor fair and expressed support for Guaidó.

There was nervousness about how far the EU could go however.

“The problem is that we can’t recognise somebody who was not elected democratically,” said one EU diplomat. “That would create a dangerous precedent for any other person who would want to proclaim themselves the president of something.”

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