Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov went on a week-long tour of Latin America in the midst of the crisis in Ukraine. This fact alone makes one take a closer look at the tour. The minister visited Cuba, then Nicaragua, Peru and Chile. The choice of the first two countries does not raise any questions, but the last two are known as U.S. allies.
The purpose of the tour, according to the Foreign Ministry, was to deepen cooperation ties, and in the case of Nicaragua and Cuba - to personally thank the leaderships of the countries that supported the Russian Federation in the voting at the UN General Assembly on the legitimacy of the referendum in the Crimea.
Western publications wrote that Russia also tried to draw attention of the United States to the problems near its borders, using strong anti-American sentiment that has been formed in the region in recent times. In recent years, Russia has shown a growing interest in the implementation of its influence in Latin America, in particular, working with members of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), which was founded in 2010 as an "alternative" to the Organization of American States (OAS), which is coordinated from Washington.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), the trade turnover between Russia and the region reached 16.2 billion in 2012, which marked a triple increase since 2000. In addition, Russia has traditional influence on several countries of the region, particularly Cuba and Nicaragua, which were the conductors of the Soviet position in Central America in the middle of the last century. As recent events have shown, this influence has been preserved, whereas undermined ties can be easily retrievable, due to Russia's growing power and the rejection of U.S. arrogance on the continent.
Cuba and Nicaragua are members of the ALBA bloc, which declares struggle against U.S. imperialism. During Lavrov's visit, Cuba, on behalf of Castro brothers, fully supported the position of Russia in Ukraine, condemning manifestations of fascism in western Ukraine, the U.S. assistance provided to the illegitimate government and the policy of double standards of the northern neighbor. President Daniel Ortega said that the decision on the referendum in the Crimea was sovereign, and the sanctions against Moscow would only lead to greater instability. Lavrov expressed strong opposition to the blockade of Cuba by the United States and its satellites and stressed readiness to support both Cuba and other countries on the continent by working closely with the integration structures in Latin America. Noteworthy, Russia previously wrote off 90 percent of Cuba's public debt; the remaining ten percent will be spent on the development of bilateral projects in Cuba. In Nicaragua, the Russian Federation will take part in the construction of a new transatlantic channel.
The Western press writes a lot about military cooperation. The remarks from Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu on the intention to build military bases in Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua still remain a topic for discussion in the Western media. Sergei Lavrov later clarified that Russia was not going to create any military bases, but was intended to provide logistical support to vessels and aircraft. However, it is obvious that military relations between Russia and the ALBA countries have reached a new level. It's not just about arms sales, but the presence of the Russian armed forces and intelligence agencies in the region. During Lavrov's visit to Nicaragua, the country conducted anti-drug drills, in which two vessels of Russia's Northern Fleet took part. The vessels collaborated with units of counter-narcotics agencies, departments, armed forces and police of Nicaragua and Honduras. In Nicaragua, Russia is building a training center for relevant services.
If Cuba and Nicaragua are the countries, which Russia is comfortable with when it comes to relations, then Peru and Chile are members of the Pacific Alliance (Mexico, Peru, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica) - a bloc of US allies. In addition, the two countries voted for the resolution of the UN General Assembly condemning the actions of the Russian Federation in the Crimea. However, leftist presidents came to power in both Peru and Chile. With Ollanta Humala as president, Russia and Peru signed a contract last year for the supply of BTR-80A armored vehicles in the amount of $700 million. In December, Lima announced an intention to acquire 24 Russian Mi-171SH military helicopters and open a service center for them. In Soviet times, Peru was actively buying Soviet military equipment, where it still remains in active operation, so these purchases are not surprising. The interest of the country's leadership to create free trade zone with Russia came a surprise. The parties agreed to give such negotiations a go.
Last year, Michelle Bachelet came to power in Chile. Her father worked in the Communist government of Salvador Allende, which may explain a lot. During her first presidential mandate, the visa regime with Russia was abolished. At the meeting with Lavrov, Bachelet also expressed interest in the establishment of a free trade zone with Russia; the officials discussed issues related to the supplies of Russian weapons to Chile.
It is important that Russian Foreign Minister started to make more trips abroad. For Russia, it is now vital to clarify its position on Ukraine to the world. Lavrov noticed after the visit that there was a lack of information about Ukraine in Latin America. "We have tried to fill this gap," the minister said. Vladimir Putin called President of Argentina Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner expressing his gratitude for understanding Russia's position. This personal attention led to the fact that Argentina, three days after the vote on the UN Security Council to condemn Russia, abstained at the General Assembly.
Chilean Foreign Minister Heraldo Munoz said after meeting with Lavrov said that his country was pursuing an independent foreign policy and could have excellent relations with both Russia and the United States. The statement came as a surprise to analyst Paz Zárate of Oxford University. He wrote in his article at El Pais that such statements were strange," especially in the context of tense relations between Russia and the United States." The analyst believes that this rhetoric does not translate into reality. Russia, he wrote, increases its claim as a global player and simply demonstrates its attraction as a world power. "Russia's GDP is only one-eighth of the US GDP and a half of China's GDP. Today, Italy and Brazil, for example, are bigger economies than Russia. Russia's new and old friends in Latin America should carefully consider the "new cold war," and if such a thing exists, then it goes about the current economy, rather than the ideology of the past," the analyst wrote.
China, however, is unable to give political support and modern, reliable weapons, especially in the field of air defense.
"The interests of the Russian Federation are not limited to Ukraine. The Mexicans have a saying: "Mexico is so far from God and so close to the United States." This saying is a very good description for the attitude of many countries in the region to their northern neighbor. They constantly feel pressure from the States, including in the military sphere. Russia has global interests, and it will be implementing them, including in the Latin American region," Sergei Ordzhonikidze, the chairman of the Russian Public Council for International Cooperation and Public Diplomacy told Pravda.Ru.
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