Snipers from Russia and other countries hostile to the United States are taking part in war games taking place in Venezuela this week at events dubbed the Soldiers’ Olympics, which were organized not just to show Moscow still has friends , but also that some of them are in Latin America.
The international war games have been held annually since 2015 after Russia annexed Crimea, and Venezuela has participated from the start, but this year’s games are the first in Latin America and include participants from Cuba, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Armed forces from Burma, Belarus, Abkhazia, Uzbekistan, China, India, Pakistan and Indonesia, among others, take part in the competitions. These are nations that “daily condemn imperialist aggression against the peoples,” declared Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino López at the opening of the Games on Monday.
The games come at a time when Russia is being harshly criticized for its military incursion into Ukraine, an invasion that has prompted heavy economic sanctions by Europe and the United States against Moscow and a chorus of condemnation around the world.
This year’s games are meant to remind the world that Russia still has friends, but observers believe the fact that they’re taking place in Venezuela could have a longer-lasting impact.
“In a way, this attempts to normalize (and pave the way for) a larger military presence in Latin America,” said Joseph Humire, executive director of the Center for a Secure Free Society, a Washington-based think tank. These games could open the door “to larger military operations and games in the future” involving not only Russia but also China and Iran.
The region saw this a few years ago with the first flights of Iranian planes to Venezuela. The planes, whose contents remain a mystery, initially caused widespread concern in Venezuela and among observers of the Nicolás Maduro regime, but then became so common that they eventually went unnoticed, Humire said.
“It is already normal for Venezuelans and today flights from Iran are constantly arriving, participating in worrying and alarming activities, but people are not paying more attention to them,” Humire said.
The games will take place at the Terepaima Military Fort in the central-western state of Lara, where specialized sniper teams from the participating countries will fight for bragging rights.
Although the number of soldiers present in Venezuela has not been disclosed, experts estimate that it could add up to hundreds of soldiers, since previous war games have involved nearly 30 countries.
The competitions – which have tested tank, artillery and amphibious operations in the past – are set to last through August 27 and show the Caracas regime’s willingness to turn Venezuela into a platform for a range of anti-American activities, he told Evan Ellis, Professor of Latin American Studies at the US Army War College.
“Venezuela wanted to host these games, wanted to be one of the organizers and host this party and other anti-American activities,” Ellis said.
Venezuela’s relationship with Russia is already extensive and the Games are set to deepen it, added retired Venezuelan National Guard Colonel Isidro Pérez Villalobos. But the games also aim to boost arms sales from Moscow and other participating countries in the region, though not necessarily to regular armed forces, he added.
The event “serves as a conclave for dealers in advanced weapons for transnational terrorist organizations operating in Latin America with the support of the Venezuelan regime,” the Venezuelan military officer said.
In a way, the games also highlight Maduro’s diplomatic game with the United States, which on the one hand shows his willingness to participate in talks with Washington to improve ties, while at the same time trying to strengthen his ties with Moscow.
And that the United States is willing to engage Maduro shows its short-sightedness in dealing with Venezuela and in not paying enough attention to the activities of Russia, China and Iran in the region, Pérez Villalobos said.
“In the United States, they downplay Russia’s presence in Venezuela, but they are all over the country,” Pérez Villalobos said. “They are arms suppliers, they are oil and economic partners, they are political allies and now they sponsor military competitions.”
Holding those games in Venezuela, he said, “Russia is telling the United States, ‘I can come to your backyard too. Do you want to go to the Baltic States, Ukraine and the geohistoric regions of Russia? Well, I can also come to your rooms.”