Russia, Venezuela, and the Palestinian Authority

Article excerpt

In the midst of Arafat's return to full-scale violence since Rosh Hashanah, the transformation of the Palestinian Authority into an independent state remains a key interest of Russia, which continues to view the Middle East as a place of diplomatic, economic, political and military priority.(1) Moscow's intense interest in the area also dovetails with its renewed diplomatic activities in Latin America, where the newly Marxist-leaning leader of Venezuela has been making an impact in Middle Eastern affairs.

Counted out by most analysts as a player in Latin America since the rise of Yeltsin, Russia in fact launched a treaty offensive in the 1990s throughout the continent, signing "agreements, trearies, declarations of intent or of principles of relations and cooperation with Chile, Colombia, Argentina, and Panama."(2) In addition, "in June 1994, a Memorandum of Mutual Understanding was signed between Russia and the General Secretariat of the Organization of American States (OAS), at which Russia has the status of `permanent observer.'"(3) Assisting this diplomatic activity is a growing Russian diaspora. Writing in the Russian Foreign Ministry Journal, International Affairs, Alexandr Sizonenko asserts that it is Russia's "primary task" to "devote the closest attention to our compatriots, including those who live in Latin America," and "to make this issue a component of Russian foreign policy in every region where there are colonies of Russian immigrants."(4) Sizonenko further wrote that "our immigrants could do much as mediators or participants to promote Russian-Latin American economic cooperation. Useful steps are already being taken through the Russian community in Paraguay, which holds solid positions in business."(5)

In 1996, newly installed Foreign Minister Yevgeniy Primakov (a KGB-connected liaison to Arafat, Assad, and Saddam Hussein) "paid formal visits to Mexico, Cuba, and Venezuela on 19-20 May 1996."(6) Karen Khacaturov, president of the Russian Committee of Cooperation with Latin America, emphasized the importance of Primakov's visits and noted that Paraguay is where "the most influential Russian diaspora in Latin America is based."(7) On his visit to Venezuela, Primakov met the president, the foreign and defense minister, and the leadership of the National Congress, and signed a formal Treaty of Friendship and Cooperation. This treaty was an important step in promoting Russia's goal of reestablishing "the `oil quadrangle' arrangement," involving Russia, Venezuela, Cuba, and European oil importers, which operated in 1978-1980. Under this arrangement, "Venezuela supplied Cuba, and Russia supplied Venezuela's clients in Europe with petroleum."(8) This goal takes on increasing significance in light of the rise in oil prices in the year 2000 and with the election of Hugo Chavez Frias to the presidency of Venezuela. Chavez has cited Fidel Castro as his mentor and role model, hailed Communist China's role in international affairs, and "its just stance in the domain of human rights,"(9) and praised "Libya as a model of participatory democracy."(10)

Chavez, who has taken steps to restructure Venezuela's political system and consolidate his power at home, broke ranks with international consensus by visiting Iraq as part of a tour of OPEC nations.(11) Chavez "became the first foreign head of state to visit Iraq since the end of the 1991 Gulf War, in defiance of strong opposition from the United States."(12) Chavez "traveled to Iraq overland" from Iran "after talks in Tehran with President Muhammad Khatami" (who has played a significant role in international terrorism), avoiding a violation of the UN ban on "flights to and from Iraq."(13) The significance of Chavez's role is increased by the fact that Venezuela holds OPEC's rotating presidency this year, putting it in a position to influence strongly the price of oil set by the cartel where Russia has served as an observer since an OPEC meeting in June 1998. …