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Russia and Latin America: the interview of Dr. Oxana Katysheva, the director of the LACRUS Project

The interview was conducted by Dr. Armando Chaguaceda Noriega, professor of the University of Guanajuato, participant of the Varieties of Democracy project of the University of Gothenburg, expert in democratization processes, as well as the relations between government and civil society in Latin America. Dr. Armando Chaguaceda holds Master’s Degree in Political Science (University of Havana) and Ph.D. in History and Regional Studies (University of Veracruz).

Armando Chaguaceda: What axes define the renewed presence of Russia in Latin America in the recent years?

Oxana Katysheva:  In recent years, the ongoing global pandemic of COVID-19 seems to be the most prominent phenomenon. Considering this context, there are three elements that are likely to have visible impact and might create a trend. First, Russia took an advantage of its leadership in the vaccine development and added a new area of cooperation — health sector. And it is not just Sputnik V or Sputnik Light vaccines — a number of projects received a considerable boost. Take for example pharmaceuticals studies, production of medicines and promotion of Russian medical equipment in Latin America.

Second, the vaccine supply raised the question of logistics with renewed vigor. Regardless the type of goods, transaction costs can be offset by restoring direct links between companies. Therefore, working without intermediaries and building direct cooperative relationships is an important business task, which requires a better understanding of the business opportunities on both private and public level.

Third, due to the pandemic, the ICT sector developments have become the case of particular interest. Latin America has great potential in terms of traffic growth and infrastructural advances, and the context of confinement and epidemiological restrictions only favours it. Russian companies, like “Kaspersky”, for example, have proved successful in the region. There are several new players entering the Latin American market successfully, for example “Nexign”, which offers solutions for digital transformation, or “Qrator Labs”, a network security provider.

I would like to believe that Russia will try to deepen these lines as a part of its renewed presence in Latin America.

A.C.: Understanding the political in broad terms, what ideological and pragmatic elements would characterize the relationship between Russia (and its current leaders) and its allies in Latin America?

O.K.: The balance of ideological and pragmatic elements in Russian politics in the region depends a lot on the confrontation between the great powers acting in the Latin American region. The Russian attitude, by itself, tries to evade the ideological component in favour of the pragmatic one to create firm and growing ties between Russia and Latina America in different spheres of mutual interest. Unfortunately, being highly dependent on Washington (in terms of trade, international aid, as well as links between political elites) what reflects in its policy, including foreign policy, Latin America adopts the North American perception of Russia and the Russian goals in the region. That hinders the rapprochement. Moscow, for its part, does not have sufficient resources (and even intentions) to displace the United States, but works hard in the diplomatic field, and not only with Russia’s traditional allies in Latin America.

At the same time, the leftist governments are consistently distancing themselves from Washington, perceiving China or Russia as an alternative. It is that the so-called left regimes are more open to cooperating and are often themselves initiators of a “special relationship” with Moscow. Russia in its turn uses these opportunities to lessen the consequences of tensions with the West and to demonstrate its political clout. However, it is a tense work to balance leftist “friends” and the right-wing “partners”. And Russia does not go beyond reasonable limits, it does not have an association with ALBA, for example, and it absolutely does not maintain the leftist discourse, but tries to support its allies and consolidate relations with the rest of the Latin America.

A.C.: Basing on these geopolitical ties between Russia and its regional allies, how would you evaluate the presence and impact of the Russian media (Sputnik, RT) in the Latin America?

O.K.: Sputnik and RT occupy quite a notable place in the Latin American media market, precisely in countries considered as Russian geopolitical allies, but not only there. And the answer is quite simple: there is a demand for the content that Sputnik and RT produce. It is a systemic factor. A marked predominance of US media agencies and their very biased way of reporting can no longer satisfy the expectations of the Latin American audience, especially in the globalizing context, with the new technological and highly varied communication models. It reflects the demand for plurality of perspectives. Sputnik and RT follow the current regional agenda instead of aggressively enforcing it. And it is not only due to insufficient funding, which is truly incomparable with the American media giants, but because of the fundamental characteristic of Russian media: Sputnik and RT maintain the most conservative and traditional narrative and address a small, but loyal audience without trying to win the hearts and minds of everyone.

A.C.: What challenges, opportunities and objectives do you see in the growing links of the Russian academy (specialized in socio-political issues) with its Latin American counterparts?

O.K.: Recently, the Russian Foreign Ministry recognized that our country needs new conceptual approaches to understand Latin America. I suppose that these new approaches is the basic condition for the update of Russian foreign policy towards the region. And without research centres and think tanks, which are generators of expert knowledge, there is no way to achieve the goal.

At the same time, the quality of research is of great importance and international academic cooperation is fundamental to ensure objectivity, impartiality and bridging of prejudices. Therefore, it is vital to continue exchange programs, hold forums and create special platforms to strengthen cooperation.

Another critical point is to popularize the results of such collaboration among a wider audience. Today, the knowledge of Latin America in Russia is elite. According to some observations of Latin American colleagues, in particular Andres Serbin, the executive director of the CRIES, in Latin America, the situation is very similar. I see it as a certain challenge, and, for my part, I try to face it, working within the LACRUS project.

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