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Russia’s efforts as Vladimir Putin brings Russia to Latin America would have been unthinkable just a few decades ago. First there was the Monroe Doctrine, established in 1823 by United States President James Monroe. The Monroe Doctrine declared that any effort by European nations to involve themselves in North or South America would be viewed as hostile to the interests of the United States and be met with intervention. The Monroe Doctrine also promised that the United States would not interfere in Europe nor Latin American countries which were existing colonies of European powers.
Russia’s push into Latin America extends to the breakup of the Soviet Union when Western powers promised Mikhail Gorbachev that if he would tear down the Berlin Wall and allow the reunification of East and West Germany, NATO would move no further East. The West would have its areas of influence and Russia would have her sphere. Other than a historical relationship with Communist Cuba, Russia had not ventured any further into Latin America.
Countries formerly under Russian influence signaled to NATO that they would rather be aligned with Western Europe and the United States, which has allowed NATO to expand significantly up to the Russian border in nations such as Poland, Latvia, Lithuania, and Estonia. Former Soviet aligned states such as Croatia, Macedonia, and Albania have also joined NATO.
On Friday, July 11, Vladimir Putin brought Russia to Latin America again as he arrived in Cuba with fresh approval from the Russian Duma (Parliament) to write off $32 billion in debt owed to Russia left over from the Soviet period when Cuba was heavily subsidized by Moscow. In addition to debts owed to Russia, Cuba today continues to be subsidized by the Latin American nation of Venezuela. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal, University of Miami Cuban expert Jaime Suchlicki speculated that Putin is interested in a berth for the Russian Naval fleet at Cuba’s new port of Mariel, which was also funded by Venezuela.
Over the past decade Russia has developed relationships in Latin America via BRICS, the trading block of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. This week Rosneft, a Russian oil and gas company with close ties to the Russian government, announced that it has signed an agreement to purchase the Venezuelan oil and gas company, Weatherford International, bringing with the deal an expanded Russian presence into Venezuelan oil fields.
Back into 2010, when many were questioning whether BRICS could develop into a significant bloc and whether Russia could extend its influence further into Latin America, the Economist wrote that “The BRICs matter because of their economic weight. They are the four largest economies outside the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, ‘the rich man’s club’). They are the only developing economies with annual GDPs of over $1 trillion…”
Accompanied by his trusted Foreign Minister, Sergei Lavrov, Putin touched down for a brief visit with trade and government ministers in Nicaragua. This year marks seventy years of diplomatic relations between Nicaragua and Russia. Later in the day, Putin arrived in Argentina where he and his team met for bilateral talks with Argentinean President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner.
On Sunday, Putin arrived in Brazil, a BRICS member nation, where the theme: “Vladimir Putin Brings Russia to Latin America” included his attendance at the closing ceremony of the 2014 World Cup championship. Russia will host the FIFA World Cup in 2018, and Putin, who is an avid hockey fan, appears to enjoy soccer, at least for public view.
The Vladimir Putin Brings Russia to Latin America tour will continue with the sixth annual BRICS summit in Rio de Janeiro with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff and other BRICS leaders. Meanwhile, Washington can only watch cautiously as the Monroe Doctrine continues to crumble.
By Jim Hanemaayer