Russian leader Vladimir Putin spent much of this month calling the leaders of allied communist nations in Latin America to discuss “boosting strategic cooperation in all fields,” giving Moscow enhanced leverage in the Western Hemisphere as tensions with Washington mount.
American corporate media outlets reported a frenzy over potential Russian colonization in Washington after President Joe Biden told reporters last week that he believed Putin would formally invade Ukraine – the Russian government colonized part of Ukraine in 2014 and is a looming presence in the ongoing Donbas war in the nation’s east. Biden suggested that America would not intervene in the event of a “minor incursion,” triggering panic that Biden’s remarks would embolden Putin to colonize the entire country.
Ukrainian officials, including President Volodymyr Zelensky, have denied having any evidence of an imminent further Russian invasion, but their statements have largely evaded coverage in the United States. The Russian government denies any involvement in the Donbas war and has argued that the true threat to European stability is the potential for Ukraine to join the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO).
Biden himself has not commented in depth on tensions with Russia since his extensive press conference last week. On Tuesday, during a casual public stop for ice cream, Biden compared the situation in Ukraine to World War II and claimed that predicting if Russia would invade Ukraine was “a little bit like reading tea leaves.”
If it’s above freezing, then it’s ice cream weather. pic.twitter.com/o8TOL05h3X
— President Biden (@POTUS) January 25, 2022
Russia’s Tass news agency reported that Putin appeared more preoccupied with America’s neighbors than Russia’s this week, making time for phone calls with the dictators of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua.
“Russian President [sic] Vladimir Putin in his recent phone calls with the leaders [sic] of Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela – Miguel Diaz-Canel, Daniel Ortega and Nicolas Maduro – saw eye to eye with them on boosting strategic cooperation in all fields,” according to Tass, which cited Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Lavrov briefed Russian lawmakers on the calls on Wednesday.
“In recent telephone conversations, President Putin and his counterparts from the three friendly countries agreed to consider ways to further deepen our strategic partnership in each and every field,” Lavrov reportedly said. Tass did not report any elaboration from Lavrov on what, exactly, Putin discussed with the three leaders, or if the communists running Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua had discussed their individual relations with Russia among themselves.
Granma, the official newspaper of the Communist Party of Cuba, confirmed the conversation between Putin and Castro regime puppet Miguel Díaz-Canel, celebrating the two countries’ “excellent state of relations.” The newspaper noted that Russia had recently sent Cuba “humanitarian aid” to combat the Chinese coronavirus pandemic – which Cuba has repeatedly claimed to have conquered on its own – including oxygen tanks and unspecified medicine.
“The two also exchanged [statements] on international and regional topics,” Granma reported cryptically.
Díaz-Canel published a photo on Monday of his latest meeting with Putin thanking him for the conversation.
Sostuve cordial y fructífera conversación telefónica con el Presidente Putin. Intercambiamos sobre excelente estado relaciones y desarrollo futuro vínculos en las diferentes esferas. También sobre actual situación internacional. pic.twitter.com/Rbr1WFQ4BE
— Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez (@DiazCanelB) January 24, 2022
Russia has invested heavily in the continued existence of the half-century-old communist regime in Cuba. While occasionally griping about Cuba’s inability to pay back loans to Moscow, the Putin regime has not ceased offering them, issuing Havana a $50 million loan in 2018 to beef up its military. Cuba largely uses its military to repress political dissidents and help entrench its allied regime in Venezuela.
Venezuelan state media reported on a conversation between dictator Maduro and the Russian strongman last week.
“We exchanged on issues related to existing cooperation in various strategic areas at the highest level, a relationship that is strengthened by the unbreakable union of our peoples,” Maduro himself said in a written statement on his Twitter account.
Putin’s calls to friends in Latin America follow threats this month from the Kremlin that Russia may increase its military presence in the region in response to American troops positioned in Europe.
Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected a request by U.S. President Joe Biden to allow an American military presence in countries near Afghanistan, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday. https://t.co/dB45VqoVUK
— Breitbart News (@BreitbartNews) August 20, 2021
Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov insisted that Russia could “neither confirm nor exclude” the possibility that it would increase its military presence in Latin America. Biden National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan disregarded the comment as “bluster,” despite the fact that extensive evidence suggests a formidable Russian presence already exists in Latin America.
Russia signed a military cooperation agreement with Venezuela in 2001 that has resulted in a near-permanent Russian presence in the Caribbean country. Russian news agencies reported that Putin had greenlit plans in 2018 to establish a permanent military base on the island of La Orchila, belonging to the country.
“Our strategic bombers do not have to return to Russia every time [after an exercises], and will not need to refuel midair during patrol missions to the Americas,” Shamil Garayev, a Russian military expert, explained at the time.
“Currently, a commission of [Russian] specialists is present on the territory of Venezuela and, no doubt, it may be expanded,” then-Venezuelan Foreign Ministry Jorge Arreaza admitted in Moscow a year later. Russia also docked one of its top warships in Havana that year, on the same island as America’s military base at Guantánamo Bay.
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