Russia - Latin America: the union of solidarity and pragmatism

Nil Nikandrov -
June 22, 2010
Russia - Latin America: the union of solidarity and pragmatism
The visit of Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev in the US on June 22-24 has been awaited with great interests in the countries of Latin America. How will the results of this visit affect Russia’s policy in this region? Will Washington make Moscow correct its energy policy it has been conducted in the recent years in the Western hemisphere and first of all in the countries with populist regime – Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Ecuador?

It was not easy for Moscow to come to the current relations with Latin America. It had to go through an open hostility of the administration of President Bush and than it faced almost undisguised unfriendly attitude of President Obama and his conservative team, which he had inherited from the Republicans. The reset of the US-Russia relations announced by Obama is too far from being constructive. Washington stonewalled almost all Russia’s initiatives on the international arena and especially those which concern Latin America.

In the end of the 20th century many of those who fought hegemony-like ambitions of the former Soviet Empire said directly: hands off Latin America, this is the US’ reserve and don’t irritate your “partners” by conducting your own policy in such a geographically remote and unpromising region. Embassies and trade representative offices were closed, spies and reporters were recalled. Russia’s “Aeroflot” had to cancel many of its well explored and quite profitable flights.

Now it seems unbelievable that after such and unprecedented (and deliberate, of course) smash of the Soviet heritage in Latin America, Russia has managed to return there, to strengthen its positions (only in the last ten years) and to create favorable conditions for the development of relations with the countries of the continent. The ideological component does not matter here - Moscow is ready to cooperate with the countries which have left-socialistic and right conservative governments. This approach gives good results. In 2005-2009 Russia’s trade turnover with the countries of Latin America increased to $18 billion from about $6 billion. Some experts name the achievements of the Russian policy in Latin America “the most efficient outcome of Moscow’s international activities in recent years”, “momentous”, and in many ways contributing to “the modernization of the regional relations”.

Kremlin reiterates that the development of Russia’s relations with Latin America is not targeted against any third country. But former “Sovietologists”, who now prefer to be called “Kremlinologists”, continue to come up with a propagandist statement that by strengthening its positions in Latin America Moscow gives a “mirroring” response to the color revolutions organized by Washington in the Russian geopolitical area (the countries of the former Soviet Union).

The strategic partnership between Moscow and Caracas is matter-of-factly presented by the North American black propaganda as the first stage of Russia’s inevitable military expansion to Latin America. They claim that Venezuela is only the beginning of “the Russian push”. In prospect, they claim, the Russian marine bases will be established in Ecuador and Nicaragua and a land (missile) base will be established in Bolivia. This will be Moscow’s response to the US anti-missile system near the Russian borders and will enable Russians to control the entire territory of the continent from the area which is the most vulnerable for the US.

Pentagon’s experts do not rule out that the Russian center of radio intelligence will resume its operation in Lourdes on Cuba. Since 2003, this center has ensured control over telephone and digital lines on the US territory.

You can’t help remembering that as the Russian-Venezuelan cooperation in the defense sector was developing (including demonstrative flights of TU-160 strategic bombers and joint war games of the Venezuelan fleet with the war ships of the Russian North Fleet headed by the Pyotr Veliky (Peter the Great) cruiser, the US propaganda floutingly talked about “rusty military equipment” from Russia.

But Pentagon was quite fast in taking counter measures: it established seven new military bases in neighboring Columbia which were supposed to fight drug traffic and international terrorism.

The concept of Russia’s foreign policy, which was approved on July 12, 2008, points out to the task of further gradual development of cooperation with the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean Basin (LACB). Now Russia is maintaining relations with all 33 countries of the region. With many of these countries Russia carries out mutually beneficial projects in such sectors as – energy, high technologies, infrastructure etc. Russia plans to enhance mutually beneficial ties with the organizations within LACB – first of all with Mercosur (Southern Common Market) which comprises Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Paraguay, Venezuela (now completing the procedure of its entry to the organization) and also with the number of allied countries. The memorandum of mutual understanding in the establishment of political dialogue with Mercosur was signed during the official visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to Buenos Aires and Brasilia on December 12-15. The Russian Foreign Ministry is preparing the agreement which will also cover other spheres of cooperation.

Russia showed interest in the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) – created by the populist countries using the socialistic principles. Russia is interacting with Venezuela, which was the initiator of ALBA, and this is not only cooperation in military sector. Russia’s state and private companies such as Gazprom, Lukoil, Rosneft, Surgutneftegaz and many others are operating in Venezuela. Their partner on that market is Petroleos de Venezuela company. In early 2010, Russian signed an agreement with this company to develop the Hunin-6 deposit in the Orinoco belt. The deposit has reserves for 35-40 years of intensive use. The total investments in the project will amount to $20 billion.

The US hawks are getting annoyed with Russia’s active role in the development of Venezuelan oil and gas sector which has reserves for 200 (!) years. The US began its hopeless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq driven mainly by its “emperor grasp reflex”, in order to get hold of the oil and gas reserves of those countries and to dispose of them as they please. In order to receive wider access to the Venezuelan oil reserves the US should have done very little – to give up its conventional Emperor tone when dealing with the Bolivarian regime and to admit that the hydrocarbons are the legal property of Venezuela and the Venezuelan government has the right to set the rules for their production, distribution of quotas and sale.

No doubt that Medvedev will have to withstand the strong pressure from Obama concerning “the anti-American character of the Russian-Venezuelan relations”. The words that a liberal politician and dictator Chavez cannot not have anything in common will definitely be said. It is not excluded, that it will be directly recommended to the Russian guest to scale down all the programs of its military technical cooperation with Venezuela. We expect Obama to assure Medvedev that the US will appreciate this step and the doors of the WTO will be opened wide for Russia.