Kudo to Oscar-winner Jared Leto, who in his Oscar acceptance speech reminded us that two democratic revolutions are occurring right now, one in each hemisphere . Sadly, they haven’t been paid proper attention; their meaning and potential future impact not understood.
President Obama did not even mention Venezuela at a summit recently in Mexico. And the Ukraine? As in 1968 Prague, U.S. Intelligence only found the Russian troops when they appeared in the Crimean peninsula.
Meanwhile, with remarkable similarity, both Nicolás Maduro and Viktor Yanukovych are democratically elected thugs, who abuse constitutional powers. Paraphrasing James Madison, they have sought to “aggrandize themselves by confusion of their country.” Dissident playwright Vaclav Havel, who became president of Czechoslovakia in 1989 after its more than 40 years in Soviet “Babylonian” captivity, noted repeatedly that existing socialism does not provide a rule of workers and peasants, as its spiritual fathers envisioned, but a dictatorship of the nomenklatura.
In 1968, these two authors personally experienced the USSR´s brutal violation of Czechoslovakia. Actually, little has changed in Russia´s method, between then and now. In 1968 its soldiers supposedly came to protect communist brothers from counter-revolutionaries and Nazi revanchists. Now it´s to protect Russian citizens from Kiev fascists and anti-Semites.
But let´s be clear. Putin is neither a KGB thug, nor delusional. An autocratic reformer, he is wholly dedicated to Russia´s national interests. And for sure, there is more to the why of the Crimea. Largely landlocked, Russia has only one warm water port, Sevastopol, the Crimean site of Russia´s Black Sea fleet. The Black Sea is her only link to the Mediterranean and the Middle East.
The strategic importance of the Crimea to Russia has only grown with existing and planned gas and oil pipelines. Having possibly written off the Western Ukraine, Putin may be considering the transfer of oil and gas through and around Crimean pipelines crossing the Black Sea to Western Europe.
Things certainly don’t look bright for the West at the current moment. Yet, surprisingly, in the present scramble for options, there is, in our view, a still unexplored means for punishing Russian aggression.
The Russian navy has been flexing its muscles and itching to again project its power globally. Thus we bring into focus that other revolution, Venezuela’s. After the 2008 Russian intervention in Georgia, where Putin carved out South Ossetia and Abkhazia, a Russian naval task force was sent to the Caribbean to court its autocratic, anti-U.S. regimes. Notice that Nicaragua and Venezuela were the only countries to recognize the legitimacy of the carved out Georgian regions.
Naval maneuvers in ’08 were conducted with the Venezuelan navy, together with visits from strategic nuclear bombers. Nor should we forget the linkages between Venezuela and the Middle East. Our research suggests that Venezuelan nuclear material is regularly flown to Tehran, while multitudes of Iranians and Syrians have flocked to Venezuela.
On the eve of the Crimean invasion came not only notification that Russia would be firing an ICBM test missile, but the deployment of an intelligence ship to a Cuban harbor. All this on the heels of Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu´s statement Wednesday that Russia was engaged in talks with eight countries, including Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua and Vietnam, to access facilities that would extend the capabilities of its long-range naval and strategic bombers!
In short, the U.S. must fit both crises, Ukraine’s and Venezuela’s, into a new and comprehensive, global strategy of its own. Russian access to the naval facilities of anti-American countries in the US strategic backyard is impermissible. Helping the Venezuelan — as well as Cuban, democrats and human rights defenders — is the way to prevent it. As Senator Marco Rubio (R) pointed out, “Venezuela is a puppet of Havana, completely infiltrated by military affairs agents from Havana. Cuba itself can only survive because of Venezuelan cheap oil.”
This is not to suggest that America should use its hard power in these countries. The time for military interventions in her “Near Abroad” is long past. What the U.S. must do is further the democratization processes, first in Venezuela, but also in Cuba and Nicaragua. Organizations like Freedom House or the National Endowment for Democracy and its grantees can help. The support of diverse programs and their increased funding should be obligatory for America.
As we have learned from Havel, military occupations by hostile forces do not last forever. The lesson of Russia´s past interventions is that peaceful resistance and the struggle for human rights generate the “power of the powerless.” In the end, freedom prevails. Thus, as Jared Leto put it, loud and clear, to the Ukraine and Venezuela, “We are here ... We are thinking of you tonight.”
Former Czech Ambassador to the U.S. and U.N. Martin Palous is Senior Fellow and Director of the Vaclav Havel Initiative for Human Rights and Diplomacy at FIU. Dr. Jiri Valenta headed a post-revolution, Czech foreign ministry think tank. A member of the Council on Foreign Relations, he is current president of the Institute of Post-Communist Studies and Terrorism (jvlv.net).