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The Gathering Storm in the Caribbean By: Kathy Shaidle
FrontPageMagazine.com | Thursday, November 13, 2008


Like Russian military invasions and a one-party government in Moscow, the Russo-Cuban alliance is one of those Cold War relics currently making a comeback. In sign of a reinvigorated alliance between the two former allies, the Kremlin announced on Tuesday that Cuban President Raul Castro will visit Russia in 2009. Castro’s Russian counterpart, Dmitry Medvedev, called the visit “another contribution to the development of ties” between Cuba and Russia. Those ties, he said, “are developing in a very dynamic way.”

“Dynamic” is a fitting word for it. Although Russia’s alliance with its former client state waxed and waned during the Cold War, Russia and Cuba recently have forged renewed ties through economic deals and military agreements. These partnerships include a proposed satellite launch facility in Cuba; Russia’s extension of state credit; a rumored refueling base for nuclear capable bombers; and accords covering the automobile, nickel and oil industries. In addition, Russia was the first country to send emergency aid to Cuba in the wake of Hurricane Gustav earlier this year. It’s as if the Cold War had never ended.

At the same time, things are indeed different. The new Russo-Cuban relationship has little to do with the mutual regard or ideological agreement that prevailed in the past. It is instead a reflection both nations' shared antagonism toward the United States. Cuba has been under a U.S. economic embargo since Fidel Castro’s Communist revolution turned the island nation from an ally to an enemy in 1962.

Russia’s resentments are of more recent vintage. The new U.S.-Polish missile defense system agreement, for example, is viewed by the Kremlin as a threat, notwithstanding U.S. assurances that the system is defensive in nature. Russia also is displeased by the Bush administration’s condemnation of its invasion of Georgia earlier this year. That invasion also was deplored by most of Europe. In Cuba, by contrast, Russia has found a rare ally.

But solidarity has a price. So far, most of the expenditures have been borne by Russia, money that the country can ill-afford to spend. Finance minister Alexei Kudrin told parliament on November 12 that Russia may dip into its “rainy day fund” to supplement next year’s budget, with more economic “support measures” to be announced later in the week. On this evidence, Russia’s patronage of Cuba hardly looks sustainable.

In addition, some of the joint projects are experiencing problems. According to the Russian online daily Kommersant, Cuban negotiations with Russian oil giant LUKOIL to modernize two of its oil refineries “never proceeded beyond the very initial stages. A source close to the intergovernmental commission explained that Cuba received more profitable propositions from companies in other countries, mainly the U.S.”

So, why invest so much in the tiny Caribbean island? The answer is that Cuba lies less than 100 miles off the Florida coast. As military analysts at Stratfor put it, “Cuba is the perfect location to remind Washington that it, too, has a sensitive periphery. If the Kremlin ever feels that the United States is pushing too hard on Russia’s core periphery, such as in Georgia or Ukraine, Moscow can ratchet up pressure in the Caribbean through military, overt and covert means.”

Ray Walser, a Senior Policy Analyst for Latin America at the Heritage Foundation, told FrontPage that renewed ties between Russia and Cuba will force Washington to spend “time, political capital and resources” that would be “better spent on trade, prosperity and security against crime and drugs.” Walser points out that Raul Castro’s “return to the Russian fold” is particularly troubling, given that Fidel’s brother was Cuba’s “Soviet point man for decades.”

Russia may not be the only country revisiting its relationship with Cuba. Russian journalist Alexander Gabuev has speculated that president-elect Barack Obama could be seen as “a threat to Russia’s position on the Latin American market.” For instance, Raul Castro hailed the U.S. election results, perhaps suspecting that Obama’s controversial campaign promise to meet world leaders “without preconditions” could very well include him. If Obama goes further – if, for instance, Obama suspends the American trade embargo against Cuba and there is an economic accord between Cuba and the United States – then the Russians could face something they’ve never experienced in the region: competition.

However, Heritage’s Walser counsels against this approach. He points out that a decision to lift the longstanding economic embargo absent political reform in Cuba could be interpreted as American weakness. Instead of legitimizing the Cuban regime, he believes, the US must press for a “democratic transition in Cuba.” For all the shifting ties between the two countries, the dictatorial rule of the Cuban government is a reminded that some things have not changed at all since the Cold War.


Kathy Shaidle blogs at FiveFeetOfFury.com. Her new book exposing abuses by Canada’s Human Rights Commissions, The Tyranny of Nice, includes an introduction by Mark Steyn.


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