Thursday, March 27, 2014

Russia pivots toward Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua

BERMAN: Russia pivots toward Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua
Where Obama pulls back on Monroe Doctrine, Putin forges ahead
By Ilan Berman Wednesday, March 26, 2014

With all eyes on Ukraine, where Russia's neo-imperial efforts have
raised the specter of a new Cold War between Moscow and the West,
another alarming facet of the Kremlin's contemporary foreign policy has
gone largely unnoticed; namely, its growing military presence in, and
strategic designs on, the Western Hemisphere.

On Feb. 26, Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu formally announced
his government's plan to expand its overseas military presence. Russia,
Mr. Shoigu outlined, intends to establish new military bases in eight
foreign countries. The candidates include five Asian nations and three
Latin American ones: Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Negotiations are
underway to allow port visits to each, and to open refueling sites there
for Russian long-range aircraft.

Just one day later, in a throwback to Cold War military cooperation
between the Soviet Union and client state Cuba, a Russian warship docked
in Havana. As of yet, neither Moscow nor Havana has issued a formal
explanation as to why the Viktor Leonov, a Meridian-class intelligence
vessel, was dispatched to the Latin American state. However, the visit
tracks with a growing Russian strategic footprint in the region.

Over the past several years, Moscow has devoted considerable diplomatic
and political attention to the Americas. Consistent with its pursuit of
a multipolar world and its efforts to re-establish itself as a great
power, this engagement has prioritized contacts with ideological regimes
that share a common anti-American worldview.

In Cuba, Russia has worked diligently over the past half-decade to
rebuild its once-robust Cold War-era ties. This has entailed top-level
diplomatic visits by Russian officials to Havana (most prominent among
them a November 2008 visit to the Cuban capital by then-Russian
President Dmitry Medvedev), as well as new military agreements and
revived cooperation on topics such as energy and nuclear cooperation.

With Venezuela, Russia has succeeded in forging a robust military
partnership, exploiting the radical ideology and expansionist tendencies
of the Chavez regime in Caracas. Between 2001 and 2013, Venezuela is
estimated to have purchased more than three-quarters of the $14.5
billion in arms sales carried out by Russia in the region.

More recently, the Kremlin also has made concerted efforts to strengthen
its relations with the Sandinista government of Daniel Ortega in
Nicaragua. Since Mr. Ortega's return to power in 2007, Russia has
emerged as a major investor in Nicaragua's military modernization,
erecting a new military training facility in Managua and a
munitions-disposal plant outside of the Nicaraguan capital.

Russia has also thrown open its warfare schools to the Ortega regime,
with 25 Nicaraguan officers now reportedly being trained annually in Moscow.

What drives Russian policy toward Latin America? Most recently, Moscow
has focused on the region as part of stepped up efforts at international
counternarcotics cooperation.

Pursuant to a March 2013 plan unveiled by the Kremlin's anti-drug czar,
Viktor Ivanov, Russia is now working to expand anti-drug operations with
Latin American states.

Russia's interest in the Americas extends far beyond counternarcotics,
though. Moscow maintains significant economic equities in the region,
although the volume of its trade (estimated at less than $14 billion
annually) is still comparatively small.

However, Russia appears eager to position itself to exploit new economic
opportunities, such as those that would result from the Nicaraguan
government's ambitious plans to host a counterpart to the Panama Canal.
It may also be using compliant Latin American states to bolster its
intelligence-collection capabilities in the region, which are said to
have grown significantly in recent years.

More than anything else, however, Russia's activities are strategic —
and opportunistic. Last fall, Secretary of State John F. Kerry announced
with great fanfare that the "era of the Monroe Doctrine is over,"
effectively serving notice to foreign powers that the United States has
no plans to contest or compete with their growing influence south of our

Moscow apparently was listening, and its recent moves suggest that the
Kremlin is taking full advantage of America's retraction from the region
to improve its own position there in both economic and strategic terms.

Ilan Berman is vice president of the American Foreign Policy Council,
based in Washington. This article is adapted from his testimony before
the House Foreign Affairs Committee on March 25.

Source: BERMAN: Russia pivots toward Cuba, Venezuela, Nicaragua -
Washington Times -

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