Is the Colombia-Venezuela border the next Cold War flashpoint?

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The affirmation by U.S President Joe Biden, during a press conference on the first year of his administration, that a Russian strike against Ukraine could be “a minor incursion,” was akin to a diplomatic bombshell falling on the Eastern European nation hours after U.S Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited the country to offer military support.

With the world transfixed on growing tensions along the Ukraine – Russia border and what would be the difference in the U.S’s response to either a “minor,” or full-scale invasion, the steady military build-up of Russian hardware along the Venezuelan side of the Colombia border has gone largely unnoticed by the international community.

One journalist at the conference did question President Biden if the U.S was losing a dominant foothold in Latin America to Chinese and Russian intervention, in which the Biden referred to Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro as “little more than a dictator right now.”

Stating that “so much damage was done as a consequence of the foreign policy decisions the last president made in Latin America, Central America, and South America,” President Biden referred to everything south of the Mexican border as “America’s front yard,” and where the U.S “doesn’t dictate what happens.”

That said (and without mentioning the U.S’s staunched ally in the hemisphere: Colombia), intensive fighting in recent weeks between FARC dissidents and ELN guerrilla, as well as attacks by these illegal armed groups against military and civilian targets, has resulted in Colombia boosting its military presence in the oil-rich department of Arauca, and which shares over 400 kilometers of border with Venezuela. On Wednesday night, a car bomb detonated outside a building in Saravena that housed the offices of several NGOs, killing one person and injuring five others.

The most recent attack comes after President Iván Duque issued an ultimatum to the ELN on the three-year anniversary of the car bombing inside the country’s largest Police Academy. The ELN claimed responsibility for an attack in which 22 cadets lost their lives. President Duque’s ultimatum of “surrender or we’ll get you,” was accompanied by assurances that “as long as this narco-terrorist group attacks Colombians, we will confront them with total determination.” On Monday, the National Police gave instructions to Interpol to update the Red and Blue Interpol warrants against the ELN’s commanders who receive territorial protection from the Cuban and Venezuelan regimes.

With two Army battalions already dispatched to Arauca, as well as the announcement on Thursday by Colombia’s Minister of Defense Diego Molano of sending an additional 700 security forces to the border region in the aftermath of the Saravena bombing, the former director of Venezuelan Intelligence, Manuel Cristopher Figuera, denounced that two Russian military bases are operating inside Venezuela. The allegation by the deserter of the regime includes the locations of where the Russian bases are: one within the 41st Brigade in Valencia, Carabobo, and the other in Manzanares, state of Miranda.

Russia claims its only military bases outside the former Soviet Union are in Syria, but has not ruled out, the option of military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela if tensions over Ukraine escalate. Dousing fuel to the regime’s anti-imperialist diatribe, Venezuela’s Defense Minister, Vladimir Padrino, accused Colombia on Thursday of “being a pawn of NATO,” and “organization that wants to seize control of the world, beyond Europe’s borders.”

In an interview with the Russian television network RTVI, Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he could “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Latin America, and move that could potentially consolidate the Colombia-Venezuela border as the next Cold War flashpoint in Biden’s increasingly neglected “front yard.”