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Located in South America, Venezuela is bordered by Colombia, the Caribbean Sea, Guyana and Brazil. Colonized by the Spanish in the 16th century, Venezuela became an independent country in 1830. The northern portion of Venezuela is dominated by the eastern spur of the northern Andes. The mountains are cooler than the surrounding subtropical plains and host the majority of Venezuela's population. The country's core includes Lake Valencia and Caracas. Since the late 19th century, oil has been the driving force behind Venezuela's political and economic affairs. The first discoveries were made in the Maracaibo basin, and later discoveries revealed heavy, sour crude deposits in the Orinoco basin. The tropical Orinoco basin is largely unpopulated, with little significant infrastructure. Just to the south are the Guiana Highlands, which buffer Venezuela from the jungles of the Amazon River basin. As a Caribbean country, Venezuela lies within the direct sphere of influence of the United States. The United States is not only the largest military power in the region, but also the largest consumer market and a key destination for Venezuelan crude oil exports. As a result, Venezuela's primary geographic challenge is managing its relations with the United States. Venezuela has throughout history used its relationship with the United States to attract the foreign investment and technological development that resulted in the country's well-developed oil sector. But relations between the two countries don't always match the economic reality. Former Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez built domestic and foreign policies around rejecting U.S. influence.
The Democratic People's Republic of Korea, or North Korea, lies on a peninsula extending outward from northeast Asia. The country borders China and Russia to the north, the Republic of Korea to the south, and Japan across the sea to the east. North Korea's primary geographic challenge is securing its northern and southern borders from the threat of its much larger regional neighbors. The Kaema Plateau and Hamgyong Mountains comprise much of the northern border region, providing a strong but not unbreachable geographic barrier. The Taebaeck Mountains run along the east coast, limiting the potential for invasion from the sea. Since the time of earlier North Korean kingdoms including Koguryo, The Dandong-Sinuiju gap across the Yalu River in the northwest and the wide Imjin-Han river valley in the south leave the country vulnerable, particularly with the lack of geographic barriers along the north-south axis. North Korea's mountains do provide ample hydropower, and the country also has numerous natural mineral resources and coal, but its terrain and climate limit agricultural activity. Given its larger neighbors, North Korea has two core imperatives. It must secure its southern and northern borders via political accommodation, defensive lines or outward expansion, and it must engender a strong sense of national unity and exploit differences among its neighbors to balance external political pressure. From the launching of the Korean War to the heavily fortified DMZ, from the exploitation of relations between China and Russia to the development of a nuclear deterrent, North Korea's actions in many ways are shaped by similar constraints and pressures as felt by its predecessor kingdoms due to its location and geography.
Kseniya Kirillova is an investigative journalist and analyst who focuses on Russian society, mentality, propaganda, soft power, foreign policy and other activities. She is the author of several hundred articles, including research on Russian propaganda and soft power, that have appeared in the British-based Institute for Statecraft, the U.S.-based Homeland Security Today, the Atlantic Council, EU Today, the British-Canadian security project Defense Report, English-language media like the Kyiv Post and Euromaidan Press in Ukraine, the Stop Fake project, Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty and more.