MOSCOW — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has long made the buttressing of beleaguered despots a pillar of his foreign policy — most successfully by deploying the military in Syria — to drive home the point that outside powers should not dabble in other countries’ internal affairs.
On the face of it, the upheaval in Venezuela would seem to check all his boxes. Venezuela, however, is not Syria.
It is separated from Russia by thousands of miles of ocean; there is no allied regional power like Iran that Moscow can rely on to do the dirty work on the ground; and with the Russian economy suffering long-term anemia, the Kremlin does not really have the means or the domestic support for another costly overseas adventure.
Nevertheless, the question “What should Russia do?” is raised daily by newspaper columnists and television pundits.
So far, the answer from the Kremlin seems to be that it will mostly fulminate from the sidelines and as in every other foreign or domestic crisis, splatter blame on the United States.
“We understand that, in simple words, the United States took the bit between its teeth and openly took a course toward toppling the regime” in Venezuela, Sergey V. Lavrov, Russia’s foreign minister, said at a news conference on Tuesday. The opposition, he said, “have been ordered by Washington to make no concessions until the regime surrenders its power one way or the other.”
Repeatedly offering to mediate the dispute, he said it was up to Russia and others to counter these efforts. “We and other responsible members of the international community will do everything we can to support the lawful government,” said Mr. Lavrov, ignoring the fact that Nicolás Maduro, Venezuela’s president, won re-election last year through what is widely regarded as massive vote fraud.
Also to be found in Mr. Maduro’s camp are China, Turkey, Iran and Syria. One prominent trait they share is a fear of popular uprisings.
“Politically, the Kremlin wants to insist that any political regime, even if it is catastrophically ineffective, can never be deposed by its own citizens,” said Aleksandr Morozov, a political analyst and frequent Kremlin critic.
Aleksandr M. Goltz, a military analyst, echoed those sentiments while noting that the relationship with Venezuela mirrored that the foreign policy of the old Soviet Union, in which the Kremlin lavished arms and money on any country that barked at Washington.
“For Putin, the fight against color revolutions is a principle matter,” said Aleksandr M. Goltz, a military analyst. “It is not important where they happen, in Syria or Venezuela. Any attempt by local people to get rid of an authoritarian leader is seen by the Russian leadership as a conspiracy, masterminded by foreign intelligence.”
The crisis has echoes of Cold War confrontations of old. Moscow relishes its alliance with Caracas, as Mr. Goltz put it, as “a hedgehog in America’s pants.” In December, Moscow sent two long-range bombers capable of carrying nuclear weapons to Venezuela in a show of solidarity.
Vladimir Zhirinovsky, a hard-line populist and nationalist, suggested that Russia should send a whole fleet of them now to prevent outside intervention. That, in essence, would be a replay of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, when the United States and the Soviet Union appeared on the brink of nuclear war over the installation of Soviet missiles in Cuba.
In recent years, Russia’s state-owned oil giant, Rosneft, has taken a significant stake in Venezuela’s oil industry, and the Kremlin has supplied a considerable amount of arms on credit. With Venezuela generating more than $10 billion in debt over the past few years, Moscow would dearly like to be repaid.
Dmitri S. Peskov, the presidential spokesman, denied that Russia was intervening in clandestine ways, such as supplying mercenaries to protect Mr. Maduro and perhaps important government assets. Of course, officials had denied that private Russian military contractors were working for the government of Sudan before reversing field, with the Foreign Ministry confirming those reports last week.
Other analysts have suggested that there is no need for contract soldiers, because the Venezuelan military still supports Mr. Maduro. Russian officials have said repeatedly that there have been no official requests for assistance from Caracas.
But no one expects a replay of Syria. Besides the geographical distance and the expense, there are several key reasons that Russia is unlikely to intervene.
In Syria, Russia could fight from a distance, deploying its air force or firing cruise missiles from the Caspian Sea. Iran supplied the ground troops needed to defeat the anti-government militias.
Venezuela has not reached the point of war, and strategic bombers will not help deal with demonstrators, Russian commentators have noted, stressing that the Kremlin will not deploy soldiers to fight street battles against opposition protesters in Caracas or other cities.
In the Middle East, Russia has other friends besides Syria. In Latin America, apart from Cuba and Nicaragua, not a single government backs Mr. Maduro. Thus any Russian intervention risks alienating every government on the continent, not to mention provoking more American sanctions.
Even among Russian hard-liners, there is a grudging admiration for the fact that the United States is likely to whack anyone who intervenes too openly in its back yard, with the Monroe Doctrine cited frequently.
Russia’s main interest is mostly in seeing the confrontation drag on without resolution, suggested Vladimir Frolov, a foreign-policy analyst, in a commentary on Republic.ru. “It would demonstrate the failure of the American strategy of unlawful regime change and the success of the Russian line of supporting legitimate power,” he wrote.
Should Mr. Maduro go down, however, other commentators suggested that despite the temptation to turn the crisis into yet another confrontation with the United States, it would probably be best just to cut him loose.
“If Venezuela’s current political leader is destined to sink politically, let him sink by himself, without dragging us along,” wrote one commentator in the daily Moskovsky Komsomolets.
As with Bashar al-Assad in Syria, however, the idea has been raised that perhaps Russia could defuse the crisis by offering Mr. Maduro asylum, even if that possibility seems remote.
“For Maduro, who is used to palm trees,” as well as the sea and a year-round average temperature of 77 degrees, another commentator wrote in the same paper, “the cold Moscow winter is not the ideal option, but it is much better than a warm prison cell in Caracas.”