By Dr Aparaajita Pandey
As the world watches the events that unfold between Russia and Ukraine and speculates on the future of Taiwan, Venezuela has quietly increased its oil production in an attempt to cash in on the rising crude oil prices. The Venezuelan instance is not an aberration, it is emblematic of a mostly neglected facet of the Russian approach to global politics. The ties between Russia and Latin America and the Caribbean are often not the most talked about; however, historically these ties have played a strategic role in great power politics and as Moscow starts to assert its dominance over Eastern Europe once again, it is once again time to study the Russian approach towards the western hemisphere.
The recent visits by the Argentine President, Alberto Fernandez and that by the Brazilian President – Jair Bolsonaro should not be seen as individual events with superficial value. The meeting between the Latin American Heads of States and Putin and the observably warm exchange between them is just one of the ramifications of the long – term strategy of re-engagement that Russia has adopted since 2018. The Russian interest in Latin America and the Caribbean has been long standing and has remained unwavering since the cold war. Moscow invariably finds congruence of political ideology somewhere in the Latin American continent, combining that with the strategic location of Latin America vis-à-vis the United States, the region states to more and more like an obvious ally by the minute.
Russia has steadily made in-roads into the region through trade, defense, and energy sectors; it has also been successful in building political partnerships across the region especially with more authoritarian regimes. Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua the countries famously termed the ‘troika of tyranny’ by the US during the Trump regime have found support in Russia for some time; however, Russia has begun to find allies also in countries like Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, and Mexico. These are nations that have been traditionally close to the United States. The Trump and Biden regimes have both hurt the US’ relations with their neighbours in the Western hemisphere for different reasons.
While the Trump administration is mostly seen as an aberration that was marred with hateful and racially motivated speech against Latin American nations, the Biden administration has managed to alienate Heads of State like Bolsonaro due to lack of similarities in political ideologies and outlook. The recent rise of the left of centre governments and leaders in Latin America has also become a factor that is aided in the widening of the Chasm between US and Latin America. At the same time Russia has been not only an echo of political ideology but it has also proven itself to be a reliable partner. Recently, Fernandez stated that ‘Russia stood with us when no one stood with us’; a statement that indicates not only how close the two countries are but also how distant Argentina feels from the US- its traditional partner.
The Latin American ties for Russia are not just of historical or economic significance, they carry geopolitical and strategic leverage. The geographical proximity of Latin America to the US is an underlying factor for the Russian interest in the region. Putin recently announced that he was willing to deploy the Russian military in the Western hemisphere, while that seems implausible given the Russian engagement in Ukraine, it certainly has not gone unnoticed in Washington. This was stated as a retaliation to the US’ and NATO’s increased engagement in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Much to the chagrin of the region the US has often referred to Latin America as its ‘backyard’, Russia adopts the same approach to the erstwhile Soviet nations of Eastern Europe and Central Asia.
The inroads that NATO and the US have made in Eastern Europe as well as the willingness of the previously Soviet countries to be a part of the US led NATO has been seen as an intrusion by Russia and a fitting retribution was the Russian engagement in Latin America. The Russian approach in the Latin American region presently has based itself on the rising Anti- US sentiment in the region, the anti- US authoritarian regimes that seek out the Russian support and Russia willingly provides it, Russian investment and experience in key industries like oil and gas, military, space exploration, and civil nuclear capabilities, as well as the Russian expertise in cyber warfare.
The Latin American sphere of influence presently sees itself dominated by three major players, China, US, and Russia – in that order. As China steadily gains more ground, Russia and US will be fighting for what is left and Russia plans to build enough goodwill and political engagement so as to challenge the influence of the US as the US is challenging the Russian influence in Eastern Europe.
(The author is a political analyst and has a PhD in Latin American Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University. Views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policy of Financial Express Online. Reproducing this content without permission is prohibited).