14ymedio, Madrid, 20 April 2023 — The same night that Miguel Díaz-Canel again assumed the Cuban presidency, the Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov landed in Havana and will be the first foreign leader to be received by Díaz-Canel in this legislature. This coincidence, perhaps forced, reflects the current situation of the Island’s international relations, with Russia as a priority partner.
It was also the same night chosen by the US embassy in Havana to reiterate its support for Ukraine with blue and yellow lights at the top of its facade, and this was not accidental. “Tonight, the US Embassy in Havana lights up again with the colors of Ukraine to demonstrate our unwavering support for the Ukrainian people. Russia continues its brutal and illegal war of aggression against Ukraine. We will continue to use the diplomatic and economic tools at our disposal to ensure that Russia’s malignant influence and brutal aggression are recognized everywhere,” the diplomatic headquarters said on its social networks.
Meanwhile, the Russian Foreign Ministry tweeted in Spanish: “In 1961, the people of Cuba heroically defended their sovereignty and independence, achieving a historic triumph by defeating American imperialism on the sands of Playa Girón*. We congratulate our Cuban friends on this significant date.”
The visit, according to the official press, will focus on promoting political, economic, educational and cultural cooperation. “The relations between Russia and Cuba are excellent. They have a high priority for both governments and are based on traditional bonds of friendship between peoples,” the newspaper Granma said, adding that the dialogue between the two nations “at the highest level has been valuable, friendly and aimed at promoting bilateral relations in all fields of interest and mutual benefit.”
Since Donald Trump, in 2017, put an end to the thaw with the United States and economic opportunities diminished for the Cuban regime, relations with Moscow have been closer. It was especially seen between 2018 and 2020, when in addition to travel — Russian tourism doubled — Moscow multiplied its investments on the Island, although many of them were canceled due to an attitude that Russia did not like.
In 2020 a railway collaboration was suspended due to “economic difficulties and quarantine restrictions on the Island,” according to Sergei Pávlov, director of the Russian state railway company, but the statements of other senior officials indicated that the mentality of the Cuban leaders was the great impediment for investments to come to fruition. Oleg Kucheriáviy, executive secretary of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Trade Commission, told his country’s television that only 10 of 60 joint projects were being carried out and that the silence and procrastination of the island’s authorities had a lot to do with it.
The invasion of Ukraine has changed everything and has boosted relations. On this occasion, the interest of the Cuban side to have a powerful supplier of both energy and investments corresponds to the Russian interest of gaining influence in Latin America. With the premise of bringing together any potential enemy of the West and, in particular, the US, Moscow has once again turned on the flow of money.
The meetings of Boris Titov, president of the Cuba-Russia Business Council and a confidant of Vladimir Putin, with the Island’s authorities in recent months says it all.
Among the best-known results of those meetings are the creation of a joint venture of food, chemicals and other household items with the state-owned Cimex, the project of a hotel only for Russian customers, and the huge fuel increases from the Eurasian country to the Island, also the result of Díaz-Canel’s tour in December and his meeting with President Putin himself in Moscow.
Titov acknowledged in an interview with Sputnik last March that his team advises the Cuban authorities on an economic reform that involves giving more support to the private sector, and although he considered that there are problems in the regime’s mentality about profound changes (greater business flexibility and tax reductions, among others), many experts warn of the danger of following the steps that the USSR once took to become an oligarchy. In view of the SMEs that are multiplying on the Island, Moscow’s advice is being reflected, although it is suspected that many of those small and medium-sized entrepreneurs are friends of the regime and benefit from privileges.
Lavrov arrives in Havana after a meeting in Brazil with Luiz Inázio Lula da Silva, who has opted for a “Chinese” policy and proposed a peace plan to end the conflict in Ukraine. His position has been highly criticized by NATO, for standing aside in the face of the invasion of Russian imperialism and, despite this, it was the most critical of Moscow that Lavrov had to face. After leaving Brasilia, he finally arrived in the territory of unconditional friends. Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba, much more economically dependent than Brazil, have seamlessly supported Russia since the war began and not only by omission but by action, which is reflected in the United Nations votes on official pro-Russian propaganda.
In Nicaragua, Lavrov was satisfied with the support of Daniel Ortega, who has recently advocated for its incorporation as an observer country in the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (Celac) and in the Central American Integration System (Sica).
“We addressed many areas of mutual interest, such as economic issues and also cooperation within the framework of the intergovernmental commission,” Lavrov added. Those issues range from healthcare to cars, fertilizers, food production and transport, but undoubtedly what really mattered to the Russian side was diplomacy.
“All this helps to create in Latin America a powerful center and a pillar in the new world that is being formed,” Lavrov said. According to him, the countries of the West, mainly the United States, “try to proliferate their hegemony and their influence in conflicts, such as in Ukraine or in the Asian-Pacific region.”
“We, with our Nicaraguan supporters, are going to fight against these trends and prevent these acts,” he said.
Russia’s petition to join Sica is in process, as is that of Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Georgia, but a great division is expected, since countries such as Costa Rica and Guatemala oppose it.
*Translator’s note: Playa Girón is referred to as “The Bay of Pigs” by the United States.
Translated by Regina Anavy
COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORK: The 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.