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(CARIBBEAN NEWS NOW) — The government in Guyana suffered an unexpected defeat in parliament on Friday on a motion of no confidence, following the surprise defection of a member of the ruling coalition, which now automatically triggers a new general election.
However, that may not be biggest problem the country faces following the recent deployment of Russian Tupolev Tu-160 nuclear-capable bombers to neighbouring Venezuela, with whom Guyana has had a territorial dispute going back over 100 years.
Although Russian bombers have paid short visits to Venezuela in the past, they have never been accompanied by an estimated 10,000 support personnel or significant fighter escorts and other aircraft.
According to a US government source, intelligence assessments were submitted to the Trump administration and Congress as long ago as early last year that, as a result of US President Donald Trump’s ill-defined threats of military action against Venezuela, the country’s president, Nicolas Maduro, would eventually react in undesirable ways that were not in the best interest of the US.
However, as a result of the continuing paralysis and dysfunction in Washington, little or no attention was paid to these warnings.
Now, one senior US intelligence analyst told Caribbean News Now that Russia has clearly grasped the opportunity to extend its presence and influence in the region by adding some greatly increased military muscle to the ambitions of the Maduro regime in Venezuela.
“This has all the makings of a second Cuban missile crisis,” he said, “but without the rational and measured response of the Kennedy administration.”
Venezuela’s territorial claims against Guyana have recently become more significant following the discovery by ExxonMobil and others of an estimated five billion barrels of recoverable oil offshore Guyana.
If Maduro decides to seize the disputed part of Guyana by force in order to shore up Venezuela’s dire economic situation and/or his own political standing, he is likely to be encouraged rather than deterred by Russia, given its own recent history of military expansion into the Crimea.
The gravity of the situation was reinforced by a news report over the weekend that a Venezuelan naval vessel “intercepted” a ship exploring for oil on behalf of ExxonMobil in Guyanese waters over the weekend, while Venezuela said the incident occurred within its territory.
The Ramform Tethys vessel, which belongs to Norwegian company Petroleum Geo-Services (PGS) and was conducting seismic survey work on behalf of Exxon, stopped exploration and turned east after being approached by the Venezuelan navy, PGS spokesman Bard Stenberg said in a statement.
“Guyana rejects this illegal, aggressive and hostile act,” Guyana’s foreign ministry said in a statement late on Saturday, adding that the move “demonstrates the real threat to Guyana’s economic development by its western neighbour” and “violates the sovereignty and territorial integrity of our country.”
In recent months, the possibility of military support for Guyana from Brazil has been mooted but this would now appear to be far less likely following the election of a new president who is an equally vocal proponent of racist nationalism as Trump.
Britain, the former colonial power, is hardly likely to pay any attention to incursions by Venezuela given its current preoccupation with the Brexit debacle.
The question facing the outgoing and future governments of Guyana is can they rely on US support and intervention. The answer is probably not, given the unpredictability of the Trump administration and its support of Russia, especially now that all the “adults in the room” have left with the imminent departure of defense secretary, james mathis.
In the meantime, of equal concern to the Caribbean as a whole, US intelligence has indicated that Russia, along with China and Iran, may be planning joint military exercises in the region, with an eye on the obvious choke point for trade along the entire US eastern seaboard — the Panama Canal.