July 24, the Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov paid an official visit to Cuba. All leading international media noted that this trip was a new step towards the dynamic strengthening of ties between the Kremlin and Liberty Island. By the way, a month ago, one of the new Russian warships, the frigate “Admiral Gorshkov”, visited Cuba, and the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev will visit the Cuban capital in autumn. How was the meeting between the head of the Russian foreign ministry and Cuban colleagues? What are the chances of Russia to maintain its strategic presence on Liberty Island?
During his visit to Cuba, Sergey Lavrov met with the leader of the Communist Party of the Latin American country, Raul Castro (Spanish – Raúl Modesto Castro Ruz) and the head of the island state, Miguel Marías Díaz-Canel Bermúdez. As the official representative of the Russian Foreign Ministry Maria Zakharova noted, the purpose of the trip was to strengthen the political dialogue between the two countries, discuss cooperation in various fields, as well as assess the implementation of the agreements reached in November last year.
At both meetings, representatives of the two countries expressed satisfaction with the “excellent” relations between Moscow and Cuba, stressing that the governments of the two states continue to maintain the established “historically friendly ties”. A wide range of issues on the international agenda were discussed, the main of which remain the political crisis in Venezuela and the relations of Liberty Island with the White House. Sergey Lavrov focused on the joint involvement of Russia and Cuba in the situation in Venezuela, informing reporters after meeting with his Cuban counterpart Bruno Rodríguez (Spanish – Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla) that Havana and Moscow are actively involved in the work of external players in creating such conditions that would allow the Venezuelans themselves to agree on how to overcome the current situation. The Russian Foreign Minister emphasized that both states are in favor of building communication channels that can stimulate a direct dialogue between the government and the opposition in Venezuela.
In addition, from the very beginning of the Venezuelan crisis (since January of 2019), Russia and its Cuban partners have consistently been on the side of the official Caracas, the regime of Nicolas Maduro (Spanish – Nicolás Maduro Moros), as Bruno Rodriguez said at a joint press conference with Lavrov. The Cuban Foreign Minister, in a statement, indicated that what concerns Cuba’s cooperation with Venezuela will remain unchanged. Rodriguez noted Havana’s deep solidarity with the legitimate government led by the President Maduro, with the civil and military alliance, as well as with the Venezuelan people.
During a meeting with his colleague Bruno Rodriguez, Lavrov voiced Moscow’s position that Russia intends to strongly support Cuba, the Cuban people, the Cuban leadership, not only politically, not only morally, not only developing military-technical cooperation with Cuba, but also actively promoting trade, economic projects that will make the economy of this country resistant to various external attacks. In addition, the Minister condemned the policy of “imposing values, appropriating financial resources and neocolonial methods” of the administration of the President Donald Trump (Donald John Trump) in relation to the countries of the Latin American region.
The mention of “external attacks” was a very straightforward hint: with the advent of Donald Trump in the USA, the White House changed its course towards Cuba, which was proclaimed by his predecessor, Barack Obama, to radically opposite. In June of this year, Washington suspended for citizens of the United States many opportunities for legal trips to Liberty Island, provided several years ago by the Obama administration.
In turn, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that U.S. citizens are prohibited from group travel for educational purposes to Cuba and travel to the island on cruise ships, private jets and ships, etc. The Washington administration also imposed a ban on US entrepreneurs from entering into transactions with more than 200 Cuban enterprises and organizations, which the Trump government believes are associated with the Cuban authorities and special services.
Does such a turn in the White House policy towards Cuba open up the possibility for Russia to return to Liberty Island, and if so, on what conditions and in what status? This question has been actively noted by leading analysts of world politics for several days.
During his visit, Lavrov highlighted the strengthening of trade relations between Moscow and Havana, recalling that Russia’s investment only in modernizing the Cuban railway network would amount to approximately € 1 billion. Moreover, he repeatedly indicated not only his intention to continue to support the Cuban people, but also to develop relations with all countries in the Latin America and the Caribbean region.
The chairman of “Patria de Martí”, the Miami-based organization, a well-known political scientist, Julio M. Shiling, believes that Moscow and Havana are connected not only by interests in the fields of security and economy, but also by the content of the Russian and Cuban regimes. According to him, considering the main ideological context, it is worthwhile to understand whether the communist camp has disintegrated or simply changed its appearance. According to Shiling, the following process took place in a number of Latin American countries: supporters of an authoritarian style of government came to power in a democratic way, nevertheless later they established a power in which the characteristic features of democracy no longer existed. This is observed in several countries of the region – Nicaragua, Bolivia and, of course, Venezuela, which were coordinated with the ideological leader – Cuba. The easing of the regime was allowed on Liberty Island itself, US dollars appeared on the move, deals with foreigners began to be concluded, however, everything was done so that the communist government could maintain its position.
Comparing Russia with Cuba, Julio Shiling believes that such a description of the process of maintaining power is partly suitable for the Russian government. In his opinion, with Putin coming to power in Russia in the early 2000s, democracy in its “pure form” ended. According to the political scientist, Russian democracy was unable to strengthen, having existed for only a dozen years. Moreover, the democratic regime in Russia during its formation did not deal with the crimes of the past era; there was no act of justice, restoration of justice in relation to the victims of the Soviet regime. According to Shiling, there was no real institutionalization of democratic standards, they could not take root. Thus, this scenario is very reminiscent of what is happening in the aforementioned Latin American countries: it is supported by the appearance of democratic institutions, when in fact they do not fully function.
Summing up, it is worth noting that Cuba for Russia still remains a bridge for maintaining the Russian presence in the western hemisphere. By the way, such a bridge is also very valuable for Cuba itself: after all, its interests and intentions of Russia to maintain the Maduro regime and the multipolarity of its regional presence coincide. In addition, Russia has other allies in the Latin America region. Moscow maintains its strategic presence with its propaganda: the “Russia Today” in Spanish is already offered by 327 cable channels throughout Latin America. Sales of Russian defense products to Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua is also a bridge with specialists, advisers, and the Russian presence is increasing every year.
At the end of his official visit, Sergey Lavrov, along with Raul Castro, also attended the opening ceremony of the Republic’s statue restored by Russian experts in the Capitol in Cuba, which became the “cherry on the cake”, symbolically demonstrating the strong friendly ties between Moscow and Havana.