The United Nations Security Council is holding an "emergency" closed-door meeting on Friday to discuss the crisis between Venezuela and Guyana over the oil-rich Essequibo region. Russia, in turn, called for a "peaceful" solution. This issue "must be resolved in a spirit of good neighbourliness, finding peaceful solutions that are acceptable to all," Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said. Russia is an ally of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, who has supported his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin since the early hours of Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Moscow has become a major partner of Venezuela due to U.S. sanctions hitting the state since the United States, the European Union and other countries in the region did not recognize the disputed re-election of Nicolas Maduro for a second term in 2018. At the request of Guyana, the Security Council will meet behind closed doors on Friday at 15 p.m. local time (20 GMT) as the two countries continue to exchange sharp statements about the 00,160-square-kilometer area under Guyanese administration, which Venezuela has claimed for decades.
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"If there's one thing we don't want, it's a war in South America," Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva insisted Thursday. On Thursday evening, the main South American countries had urged "both sides to dialogue and seek a peaceful solution" to "avoid unilateral initiatives that could aggravate" the situation. Tensions have been rising since the discovery of large oil reserves by the US company ExxonMobil in 2015 and Guyana's tenders for exploitation in the area. The Essequibo referendum held on Sunday in Venezuela was an accelerator. According to official figures - disputed by many observers - some 10.4 million Venezuelan voters took part in the consultation, 95% of whom said they were in favour of integrating the Essequibo into the country.
Analysts believe that the referendum and the Venezuelan government's nationalist rhetoric on the Essequibo are an attempt at political manipulation less than a year before the 2024 presidential election. "It's a kind of trial balloon" by President Maduro "before the presidential elections to assess the capacity to mobilize and try to refine his strategy for 2024," says Mariano de Alba, of the International Crisis Group. A "strategy of dividing the opposition is the only way for him to have a good chance of winning the election" in 2024, he said. President Maduro has advocated the creation of a special military zone near the border and ordered the state-owned oil giant PDVSA to grant licenses to operate in the Essequibo. He also threatened to ban oil companies operating in the Essequibo with concessions granted by Guyana in Venezuela.
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On Thursday, Guyanese Vice President Bharrat Jagdeo said his country did not "trust" Nicolas Maduro and his "unpredictable government". President Maduro "is struggling to find food for his people, many people have fled this country (...) because of the disastrous economic policies he has pursued and the absence of democracy," he said. Oil companies operating in Guyana "must not heed Maduro or his ultimatum. They are operating legally, legally," he said. In this tense context, Venezuelan Defense Minister Vladimir Padrino Lopez described as a "provocation" the air military exercises that the United States had just announced would be held in Guyana. Washington, an ally of Georgetown, affirmed its "unwavering support for Guyana's sovereignty" through the voice of US Secretary of State Antony Blinken.