To Latin America allies, the Russian roar on Ukraine rings hollow

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This was a Russian power play that had echoes of Cold War gamesmanship.

Russia’s most powerful warship entered service in 2019 and made a goodwill tour through the Caribbean, equipped with air defense systems, cruise missiles, and other weapons, shortly after.

The Admiral Gorshkov was tailed by a Russian rescue tugboat as it sailed into Havana. This was a signal that Moscow was doubtful of the vessel’s reliability, and the visit was a futile effort to project power.

Russia is once more rattling its sword amid increasing tensions over Ukraine.hints that the U.S.’s refusal to listen to its demands could lead to closer military cooperation with Latin American allies. Numerous senior Russian officials warned Moscow that it could send troops and military assets to Cuba or Venezuela if the U.S., NATO, and NATO continue to meddle on Russia’s behalf.
Jake Sullivan, the U.S. National Security Adviser quickly dismissed Russia’s titt-for-tat threats. Experts believe that Russia’s ability in the Western Hemisphere to mobilize troops is very limited due to its large troop buildup at its border with Ukraine.

Kevin Whitaker, who was a former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia and served as a diplomat in Venezuela and Nicaragua as well as the head of the Office of Cuban Affairs, in Washington, said, “This is pure misdirection” It’s not power projection. It’s just a showpiece.

Even though talk about troop deployments may seem a bit blustery, Russia’s strategic buildup of troops in Latin America poses a national security threat in an area that generations of U.S. policymakers have called “Washington’s backyard”.

As the U.S.’s influence in the region has diminished over the past decade, Moscow and other far-flung adversaries, like China and Iran, have quietly established ties with authoritarian governments of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela via a combination of weapons sales, financing deals, and intense diplomatic engagement.

Moscow assisted Venezuela in the design of a cryptocurrency and forgave a $35 Million Cuban debt. Today, Moscow has a high-tech antinarcotics facility in Nicaragua. Many believe it is a secret beachhead for spying throughout the region.

Russia has repeatedly shown its willingness to use its large military when it feels threatened by the U.S.

Moscow sent two Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela in 2008 amid tensions with the U.S. due to Russia’s short war with Georgia. This deployment was followed by the arrival of the “Peter the Great”.

Russia sent more Tu-160s to the West in 2018, as relations fell to post-Cold War lows. The military hinted that it might set up an airbase on La Orchilla Island. This island is so small that it would be nearly impossible for military aircraft to land there.

Russia has been accused in spying and disinformation campaigns in order to influence elections in countries that are more friendly to the U.S. than Colombia and Mexico. According to a source familiar with the matter, a senior Colombian military officer traveled to Washington recently to inform U.S. officials about Russian attempts to hack the communications of the country’s top military command. The person spoke on condition of anonymity so that The Associated Press could discuss this sensitive topic.

According to the Alliance for Securing Democracy (a think tank that monitors the rise of authoritarianism in the world), the Spanish-language arm of Russia’s state-controlled RT television networks has more than 18,000,000 followers on Facebook. It outperforms all other Spanish-language media on Facebook, but it is still dwarfed in comparison to CNN en Espanol.

This is a far cry from 1962, when Nikita Cherschev placed nuclear missiles in Cuba. The Kremlin had a listening post located less than 100 miles from Florida, and the Sandinista government, which was fighting an American-backed right-wing insurgency, was building an airbase to house Soviet fighter jets.

Today, Nicaragua’s Punta Huete airport is semi-abandoned. President Vladimir Putin shut down the Cuban spy station two decades ago. Cuba fell into depression after the collapse of its communist sponsor, in the early 1990s. This period was marked by widespread hunger and is known as the “Special Period.”

Russia’s less generous support has made it friends. The Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega recently named a consul to the Crimean peninsula Russia annexed in 2014. It has also allowed Putin to restore some Russian glory in the Crimean peninsula Russia annexed from Ukraine in 2014.

Putin is now trying to repel NATO from Ukraine’s “near abroad”, he’s likely take at least a symbolic poke at the U.S. within its own sphere, according to Evan Ellis, a U.S. Army War College researcher who specializes on Russian and Chinese influence in Latin America.

Ellis stated that Putin would do anything to show his toughness, as he has always done. He won’t do anything that will cost him too much or put him in deeper trouble, such as deploying nuclear weapons. He is aware of the limits.

Russia’s closest ally in the region is Venezuela. Venezuela has spent billions of dollars over the past two decades under socialist rule to build up its air defense. This includes Sukhoi fighter jets, attack helicopters, radars and shoulder-mounted rocket launchers.

This arsenal allows Nicolas Maduro to inflict severe damage in the event a conflict with Colombia, the U.S. top ally in this region. Gen. Manuel Cristopher Figuera was the Venezuelan president’s spy chief before fleeing the U.S. in 2019, following a failed coup against his former boss.

It’s not an ideology-based relationship. It’s a commercial relationship, but it provides Maduro some protection,” Figuera said. Figuera was trained in Cuba and by Putin ally Belarus.

While the U.S. and its allies are taking steps to isolate Venezuela’s governments — which Donald Trump’s former national security advisor John Bolton described as the “troika tyranny”, Putin is trying to fill that void.

He’s been in touch with Maduro, Ortega, and Cuba’s Miguel Diaz Canel over the past few days to discuss ways to strengthen strategic cooperation. To help Cuba fight the coronavirus pandemic, he’s sent a planeload full of medical supplies.

The leaders have not expressed gratitude to Russia for its continued assistance, but they remain silent about Ukraine, which could indicate that they are hesitant to get drawn into yet another geopolitical conflict.

Whitaker, a former ambassador to Colombia, stated that “one of the fundamental legacies from the Cold War for Latin America is that they don’t want to be treated like a pawn” in the game. “Russia’s actions show a great disrespect for the sovereignty and interests of their supposedly allies.”

Even Putin loyalists are beginning to recognize this.

Dmitry Medvedev (deputy head of Russia’s Security Council), said that Cuba and Venezuela were the countries closest to us. He spoke with Russian media.

Medvedev said, “But we cannot just deploy things there,” adding that he was the Russian president from 2008 to 2012 when Putin had to take over as premier due to term limits. “There cannot be any talk of setting up a base there, as was done during the Soviet era.”