Russia-Cuba: A New Beginning

In the current geopolitical turbulence, not many countries continue to maintain an unambiguous and friendly stance towards Russia. Even among its neighbours there are states whose leaders prefer to keep silent or use the situation to improve their own position. But among old friends, the Republic of Cuba maintains a clear course. At the UN, Cuba always votes in favour of Russia (or against anti-Russian resolutions pushed by the collective West). Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel has expressed some support for Moscow’s special military operation and condemned NATO countries. Cuban media, primarily those with international broadcasting, such as Prensa Latina and TeleSuR, have adequately covered events in the new territories, the course of hostilities in Ukraine and Russia’s position.

Trade, economic and humanitarian relations are also reaching a new level. A Russian delegation visited Cuba in mid-May for a regular meeting of the intergovernmental commission on trade, economic, scientific and technical cooperation. The signed documents include memoranda and agreements aimed at developing bilateral cooperation in the construction sector, cooperation within the Eurasian Economic Union’s common system of tariff preferences, strengthening Cuba’s energy security, expanding mutual supplies of agricultural products of plant origin, etc.

A high-level Cuban delegation led by Prime Minister Manuel Marrero Cruz visited Russia in June. Negotiations on expanding cooperation continued and additional agreements were signed. Marrero Cruz met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as with the speakers of both houses of the Federal Assembly Valentina Matvienko and Vyacheslav Volodin. Not only bilateral interaction was discussed, but also the position in relation to a common geopolitical antagonist – the US. During the meeting with the Cuban guest, Vladimir Putin assured that “the Russian side, for its part, will do everything possible to help Cuba overcome the illegal sanctions of the West”. Marrero Cruz was also directly involved in the Eurasian Economic Union summit in Sochi and also attended the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Naturally, this upsurge in bilateral relations cannot but worry the West. The French newspaper Le Figaro wrote that “as in the times of the Cold War, when Soviet citizens drove Chayka limousines along the Havana waterfront, the Russification of Cuba is in full swing. Russian businessmen, tourists and politicians are coming back”. The US, on the other hand, is trying to manipulate public opinion in Cuba through its propaganda proxies concentrated in Miami.

Through these hand-held media outlets and bloggers, all sorts of ideas are being thrown into the Cuban information space – that the Russians will take over the Cuban economy, that nuclear missiles will soon be deployed on the island again, that Russian military personnel are coming to Cuba disguised as diplomats, that the Lourdes radar base will work again, that Cubans will lose their jobs, etc., etc.

First, it makes no sense to place nuclear weapons directly on Cuban territory and expose it to a hypothetical retaliatory strike. With the modern hypersonic technology that Russia has, a submarine attack from the Gulf of Mexico or the Atlantic could strike US territory. Moreover, Cuba is a party to the Treaty of Tlatelolco on the Nuclear Free Status of Latin America and the Caribbean, having joined it in 1995. Although Cubans have noted problems with its implementation, citing US aggressive policies, the continued occupation of Guantanamo Bay and the passage of US ships and submarines with nuclear weapons on board in the region. As for Lourdes, that station simply no longer exists. There is neither infrastructure nor equipment there. The building of the former military base is home to an educational institution, the University of Information Technology. Of course, speculations on this subject will continue.

Recently there has been yet another throw-in by the US media, although this time it was not Russia but China that was accused of creating the new intelligence centre. Although no one denied possibility of strengthening of military and technical cooperation between Russia and Cuba. This is a natural process, and given the US’ proximity to the Liberty Island, Russia’s experience and conventional military technologies may be useful and vital for Havana. Moreover, cooperation between security and law enforcement agencies can be important for maintaining public order, preventing a scenario of colour revolutions (and Cuba has repeatedly attempted to do so), and countering drug smuggling, etc.

By the way, there is a specialised centre of EMERCOM of Russia in Cuba, which functions as a joint project. There is a similar initiative in Serbia, and its activity extends to all Balkans.

It is worth mentioning that social and economic situation in Cuba is rather complicated now. There is currently a fuel and energy crisis in the country. Because of a shortage of gasoline, the movement of public transport is limited. Demand exceeds supply. And supply is difficult to organize. Although Cuba produces enough oil and gas, these natural resources are used to generate electricity. There are also food shortages in the agricultural sector, and certain products have been absent from shop shelves and markets for many months.

The ongoing blockade by the United States of America does not allow for adequate international trade. Although some neighbouring countries ignore sanctions from Washington. These include Mexico, Venezuela and Nicaragua. Relations between the countries have also improved since Lula returned as head of Brazil (the programme for Cuban doctors in Brazil was phased out under Bolsonaro).

EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Josep Borel was in Havana in May. Even he promised the Cuban government to make efforts to address the sanctions. Although on the first day of his visit he tried to make comments on who should cooperate with Cuba (referring to the position towards Russia), he was immediately made to understand that the issue of cooperation between Havana and Moscow would not be discussed with him at all, as it was none of his business. Borrell learnt his lesson and did not return to the subject.

On the whole, a technological breakthrough and the elimination of a number of current problems in Cuba are associated with Russia.

As agreements have been signed in the fields of energy, logistics and food supply. A network of state shops in Cuba should soon receive a wide range of food products from Russia. Work has already begun on the Antillana de Acero J. Marti metallurgical plant, where the electric steelmaking shop is completed with Russian equipment and its launching became possible thanks to Russian investments. The railway system is being modernised. The project, which is being implemented by Russian Railways, will last for ten years. A new fleet of wagons and locomotives was also provided by Russia about five years ago.

Finally, the MIR card is working in Cuba and Aeroflot has started to operate flights to the country, which will significantly increase tourist traffic. Although, one has to admit that compared to the USA and Canada there are not many Russian citizens visiting Cuba. From the USA there are about 30 flights a day to various airports. From Canada there are more than ten. Until recently, it was only possible to travel directly from Russia to Cuba by charter twice a week. Moreover, only to the tourist areas of Varadero and Cayo Coco. There are still no direct flights to Cuba’s major cities, including the capital Havana. Although the fleet of planes that have been bought in the USA and are at risk of arrest by Western countries could be used for flights to Cuba.

Tourism, irrespective of the countries from where they fly to Cuba, is one of the country’s main sources of income. But indirectly, it also reflects the level of mutual interest of the countries. If we look at the other segments in which Cuba has a leading position, the mining industry is worth mentioning. More specifically, cobalt and nickel.

In terms of nickel production Cuba is among the leaders along with Russia, Canada and Australia.

There is a very interesting nuance related to the work of the Canadian mining company Sherritt International in Cuba. Although the US is strictly enforcing sanctions on its partners, this company has an exception. The reason is that this nickel is used to make cents, meaning that the nickel is mined for the direct benefit of the US. Theoretically, if Russia were to squeeze the Canadian presence in this sector in Cuba (with preferential treatment for Havana), we would strike a parallel blow to the interests of two hostile states at once. There could be more such projects, since Russia has maximum favoured treatment.

Although there are still a number of nuances that complicate the deals, such as the absence of Russian banks in Cuba. It is known that this issue is being worked out, and its solution will further boost cooperation between the two countries, not only at the state level, but also with private business.

Another important aspect that hampers cooperation is the bureaucratisation of processes on both sides. For example, the parties agree on some measures or projects at a high level. But when it comes to business, everything slows down at the middle level, because there is no corresponding legislative base. And neither Russia nor Cuba will change laws to fit any agreement. That is why we need alternative options, which would suit both sides and avoid existing obstacles. For example, Cuban students come to us on quotas and have to learn Russian language for a year more. And both Cuba and Russia spend a lot of money for their studies and accommodation. It would be more efficient to create Russian language courses directly in Cuba, so that already prepared and motivated students could come to us. It would cut costs of both countries, but it would improve image of Russia directly in Cuba. The same can be said about the exchange of students and scientists between the two countries. It simply does not exist. Although, it would seem that after the sanctions imposed by the US and EU countries, we have considerable potential freed up (diplomatic personnel can be added to it), which can be partly redirected to Cuba as well.

Digging deeper, we find that Cuba has outstanding projects left over from the Soviet era, such as a nuclear power plant and the Havana metro. Both could be unfrozen and re-launched with already more efficient technology. And such long-term initiatives would support a common line of strategic cooperation.

By Leonid Savin
Source: Katehon

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