The Kremlin is Back
14ymedio, 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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
Source: The Kremlin is Back – Translating Cuba -