Americas politics: Quick View - Belarus and Venezuela: military allies, with Russia's help

Content Type
Country Data and Maps
Institution
Economist Intelligence Unit
Abstract
No abstract is available.
Topic
International Relations, Politics, News Analysis, Forecast
Political Geography
Russia, Venezuela, Belarus

Event

In October Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, visited Belarus and had a meeting with Alyaksandar Lukashenka, the Belarusian president. The two sides pledged to increase economic collaboration through their joint commission for trade and economic co-operation. However, the ties between the two countries are more military than economic.

Analysis

Belarus and Venezuela started to develop their diplomatic relationship in 2006, when Hugo Chavez, the former president of Venezuela, visited Minsk, the Belarusian capital, and met with Mr Lukashenka. Unpopular abroad, generally opposed to Western countries and authoritarian at home, the two leaders shared much in terms of political attitudes. In addition, both countries have had close diplomatic and economic ties with Russia, their former ally during the cold war.

However, and for all the optimistic rhetoric, trade between Belarus and Venezuela is insignificant (at best). In 2010 an oil deal was signed between the two countries, when Venezuela agreed to supply Belarus with 30m tonnes of oil between 2011 and 2014, for an estimated amount of US$19.4bn at the time. However, trade between the two countries subsequently plummeted. According to official Belarusian statistics, the trade turnover between Belarus and Venezuela increased by 12 times year on year in January-September, to US$10.1m, with Belarusian exports to Venezuela reaching US$9.9m and Belarusian imports from Venezuela standing at a mere US$215,300. That such low figures represent a much trumpeted major progress compared with previous years demonstrates the persistently minuscule volume of mutual trade and the irrelevance of the joint commission for trade and economic co-operation.

Far from the political rhetoric, the solid ties between Belarus and Venezuela therefore have another explanation than trade. In fact, Venezuelan armed forces use Russian weapon systems, specifically weapons produced in Belarusian weapons factories owing to Belarus's historically close ties with Russia in the military sector. In fact, Venezuela plans to open a factory of Russian-technology assault rifles in 2018-19, and Russia just completed the delivery of a multi-year arms deal with Venezuela. In addition, Belarus provides maintenance services for the weapons and helicopters that the Venezuela air force uses. Finally, Venezuela uses the same S-300 air defence systems as Belarus (a leading expert in this field during the Soviet period), which are of Russian origin.

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