14ymedio, Madrid, 3 May 2023 — This is the third consecutive week of a high-level Russian visit to Cuba. Maxim Oreshkin, economic adviser to President Vladimir Putin, met on Tuesday with the highest authorities of the Island, starting with President Miguel Díaz-Canel, who highlighted from Moscow his “enormous sensitivity to Cuba’s problems.” The Cuban president recalled the Russian cooperation of August 2021, during the oxygen crisis at the worst moment of the pandemic, and said: “That is a fact that we carry in our hearts, in our feelings and for which we will be grateful for all our lives.”
Oreshkin’s meetings with Ricardo Cabrisas, Deputy Prime Minister in charge of Foreign Trade and Investment, and Joaquín Alonso Vázquez, President of the Central Bank of Cuba (BCC), made it clear that, sentimentality aside, the Russian arrival is about business, although nothing concrete appears on the horizon, beyond Moscow’s good intentions.
Cabrisas approached several cooperation proposals with Putin’s man, including the possible creation of a regular Russia-Latin America or Russia-Caribbean maritime service. The recently-debuted minister, a substitute for Rodrigo Malmierca, nominated the Island as the center of operations for that route by assuring that Cuba “has a maritime port, air and road infrastructure that could allow connectivity, but that needs modernization.” With this he made clear, without saying it, that the money would have to come from Russia.
Next, Cabrisas pointed out to Oreshkin other sectors where it would be possible to invest: energy, agro-food, finance and tourism, to which the Russian replied that Cuba has to “pay attention to commercial exchange to increase and diversify exports, in particular those associated with health and tourism.”
In addition, the economist spoke of exploring other ways of collaboration through foreign investment and his interest in the — now-collapsed — sugarcane business, an industry in which the Russians have already created a joint venture to resurrect the Uruguay sugar mill in Jatibonico, currently in remodeling works.
From Oreshkin’s meeting with the president and the three vice presidents of the BCC, little has happened, except for Cabrisas’ laments about the “more than 100 banks from different regions of the world [that] suspended operations and correspondents with the Cuban banking system as a result of the inclusion in that unilateral list,” he said, in reference to the plan prepared by Washington to sanction countries which it considers sponsors of terrorism. That, he added, “creates delays in executing collections and payments with foreign partners.”
The restructuring of the debt with Moscow, whose extension until 2027 was negotiated by Cabrisas himself and ratified last year by the Russian institutions, and the new payment system through Mir bank cards, which has been working for tourists on the Island since March, are some of the issues that concern the BCC and that would justify this Tuesday’s meeting, although the official press has not expressly mentioned them.
Some analysts consider that the meetings were more propagandistic than concrete, since the only thing published so far have been proposals, conversations and plans to reactivate the financing for “programs that remain paralyzed.”
“In the end, if you look beneath the surface, you can see that they are the same agreements that the delegation led by Díaz Canel had on the table during the visit to Moscow last year,” says economist Elías Amor in his blog Cubaeconomía, where today he analyzes the meeting in a post entitled Cuba and Russia: a lot of noise, little substance. The expert recalls that for months there has been talk of plans that have not been realized, just like the projects before the pandemic that are now described as “paralyzed.”
Senior Russian officials already revealed in 2020 that many agreements remain unimplememted due to the breaches on the Cuban side. As for the announcement of the maritime service, the most recent project launched during the meeting with Oreshkin, Amor wonders why in thirty years of relationship with Russia it has not been carried out. “Cabrisas should ask himself why that service does not exist and if, really, the Russian economic hierarchs and global freight forwarders are in favor of the work.”
In any case, Oreshkin’s visit comes a few days after that of the State Duma President, Vyacheslav Volodin, who was in Cuba last Saturday, April 29, two weeks after the visit of Chancellor Sergey Lavrov on the 20th, with Raúl Castro’s reception included.
In addition, Nikolai Patrushev, Secretary of the Security Council; Igor Sechin, Executive Director of the state oil giant Rosneft; and Boris Titov, President of the Bilateral Business Council, who has been advising the Cuban government on changes it must make in the economy, have been on the Island — in Elías Amor’s opinion, for the expansion of private businesses. Cuban economists abroad, however, consider that the Russians’ advice is nothing more than promoting the creation of mafia oligarchies in the style of those that have been operating in Russia since the fall of the Soviet Union.
Maxim Oreshkin has become, at just 40 years old, a key man in Putin’s war economy, according to the economic media Bloomberg in a profile created in August last year. His role, according to Sergei Guriev, a Russian economist exiled in Paris, is “to find out how to circumvent sanctions, and he is doing so quite successfully.”
Among the policies he promoted were negotiations with European Union countries that agreed to pay for Russian gas with rubles and banking plans to limit the effect of the interruption of the Swift financial messaging service.
Oreshkin, sanctioned for putting his economic policies at the service of war, is firmly opposed to the state-centralized economy. “Russia is not going to abandon the market economy, on the contrary. Now private initiative is especially encouraged. The president constantly points it out in his speeches,” he told Bloomberg.
Translated by Regina Anavy
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