The Kremlin is Back

Russian President Vladimir Putin is received at the Palace of the Revolution by Raul Castro. (EFE Archive)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Yoani Sanchez, Havana, 28 May 2017 — After decades of intense contact, the Russians left few footprints in Cuba. Some young people with the names Vladimir or Natacha, or the nesting matrioshka dolls decorating a few rooms, are the last vestiges of that relationship. However, in recent years the links between Havana and Moscow have gained strength. The Kremlin is back.

Russia has long been disembarking in Latin America into the hands of those same governments that in international forums demand a greater respect for sovereignty and “the free choice of the people.” Its populist leaders, in part to annoy the United States, make alliances with Vladimir Putin under the premise that “the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

That type of partnership allowed Venezuela’s Miraflores Palace to be equipped with 5,000 shoulder-launched surface-to-air missiles (MANPADS), according to a document recently published by Reuters. The arsenal began to be accumulated in the time of the late President Hugo Chavez, but is more dangerous now amid the political instability that is leading Nicholas Maduro to falter.

In Central America, Nicaragua functions as the gateway for the voracious superpower. Daniel Ortega has about 50 combat tanks sent by Moscow and his territory serves as a site for Russian military advisers. The corrupt system of the Sandinistas creates a favorable scenario for the former KGB official’s desire for expansion.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments

However, Havana remains Russia’s main ally on this side of the world. The suspicion that arose between the two countries, after the dismemberment of the Soviet Union and the coming to power of Boris Yeltsin, has been dissipating. With Putin in command, something of the USSR has been reborn and diplomatic ties are tightening again.

In the neighborhood of Miramar, west of the Cuban capital, the Russian embassy seems to have become more prominent in the last five years. Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the building is jokingly called “the control tower,” from where the stern stepmother scrutinizes everything that occurs in her former and yearned-for domain.

Russia has just lifted Raul Castro out of the quagmire after Caracas cut oil shipments. In the years of the idyll with Chávez, Cuba received about 100,000 barrels a day of Venezuelan crude, but in recent months that amount has been reduced by more than 40%. The government was forced to cut fuel delivery to state-owned vehicles and restrict the sale of premium or specialty gasoline.

The Russian oil company Rosneft has come to Raul Castro’s aid and pledged to provide the island with 250,000 tonnes of oil and diesel, some 2 million barrels. The rescue operation leaves a trail of doubts about how the Plaza of the Revolution will pay Moscow, amid the country’s lack of liquidity and the recession.

Shaped like a sword plunged into the city’s heart, the Russian embassy is jokingly called “the control tower”

Added to the alarming signs is the fact that in recent days the son of the Cuban president, Colonel Alejandro Castro Espín, met with the Secretary of the Russian Security Council, Nikolai Pátrushev, to address the cooperation between both nations in the area of computer security. In 2014, in Moscow, the dauphin signed a memorandum of cooperation in the area of ​​intelligence.

The reunion between the old allies has been sealed with a symbolic gesture. Russia is taking care of the repair of the dome of the Capitol of Havana, which it will cover with natural stone, new bronze plates, and gold leaf that will shine under the tropical sun. A defiant message addressed directly to Washington, the city where the near twin of the imposing Cuban building stands.

Fidel Castro delivering a speech in Moscow(Archive)

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way. Enveloped in the scandal of possible Putin interference in the elections that favored his arrival in the White House, the tycoon is more interested in the Middle East or in erecting a border wall with Mexico than in approaching that region more distant from the Rio Grande.

As the Russian advance unfolds in various parts of Latin America, Donald Trump looks the other way

His indifference is evident not only in his words. The US president has just proposed substantial budget cuts to the assistance provided to all of the continent, a posture that contrasts with the ground won by the Kremlin in the economic and military sphere, propping up authoritarian and decadent regimes. The Cold War is reborn in Latin America.

But this time Moscow has returned without that mask with which it hid its geopolitical longings adorned with phrases such as “support to the proletarians of the world” or “disinterested development aid to the poorest nations.”

Now it displays a cruder and more direct diplomacy. It is not willing to subsidize but intends to buy. It no longer hides under an ideological cloak, but exhibits that crude pragmatism that oozes the capitalism that the Communists ended up adopting.

If once it lost positions and had to take refuge — inside its own pride — to lick its wounds, now Russia wants to step up the pace and regain lost ground in Latin America. It knows it has allies in the region willing to skip all ethical and patriotic considerations to help it confront the United States. And it knows it must hurry, because many of these compadres are becoming more unpresentable every day.

Its cronies on this side need a Moscow that provides them with armaments and watches their backs in international organizations. They see it as a burly bear ready to show it teeth to Washington as often as needed. In exchange, they grant it positions in their nations, intelligence information and the calculated fidelity of those who expect much in return. They dream of making Russia “great again.”


Editorial Note: The original text in Spanish was published this Saturday May 27 in the Spanish newspaper El País.