Friday, February 14, 2020

Russian Diplomacy in Latin America - Playing in America's Backyard

A recent visit by Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to destinations that Washington regards as its backyard went pretty much unnoticed by the Western media.  In this posting, I will look at three of the nations that he visited and what he had to say about each of them and their relationship with the United States.

Mr. Lavrov's first stop was in Cuba, a nation that has decades of positive diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union and Russia.  While in Cuba, Mr. Lavrov met with Cuba's Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriquez Parilla as shown on this news item from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation:

Here are some of Lavrov's comments in his media address to Cuba's Foreign Minister noting that all bolds throughout this posting are mine):

"We are absolutely committed to the agreements that were reached during Russian President Vladimir Putin’s meeting with President of the Republic of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez in Moscow in October 2019. These agreements primarily concern improving the mechanisms of economic cooperation, especially in the context of the illegitimate sanctions that the United States continues to increase.

All these matters will be substantively considered during the planned meeting of the Russian-Cuban Intergovernmental Commission on Trade, Economic, Research and Technical Cooperation in Moscow. It will focus on steps that must be agreed upon for the practical implementation of the cooperation programme in fuel and energy."

Mr. Lavrov also had additional comments regarding Washington's seemingly unending sanctions during an interview with Prensa Latina News Agency, the official state news agency of Cuba:

"We can see that US attempts to reformat the Latin American region in line with its geopolitical interests aim to overthrow the “undesirable regimes” in Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua. The archaic Monroe Doctrine serves as the ideological foundation. In the run-up to the presidential election, the White House continues to ratchet up sanctions against those states which preserve their national independence, sovereignty and identity. This openly anti-human policy runs counter to the generally accepted principles of international law, including the UN Charter.

An overwhelming majority of members of the international community condemn and reject lifting the waiver on Title III of the Helms-Burton Act, the ban on chartered and regular flights to all Cuban airports, except the Havana Airport, restrictions against transport companies cooperating with the island, numerous visa and financial restrictions and the campaign against Cuban doctors. The November 7, 2019 vote on the anti-blockade resolution at the UN General Assembly vividly confirms this.

I repeat: Washington’s sanctions against Havana prove that, in an effort to stifle the Cuban economy, the United States deliberately violates human rights, and ordinary people always suffer, above all.

We see the introduction of additional restrictive measures as a manifestation of Washington’s inability to break the will of the Cuban nation and to impose its own opinion and values. We emphatically reject these steps and stand in solidarity with our Cuban friends. We insistently call for the complete repeal of the financial and economic embargo, so as to ensure the country’s full-fledged socioeconomic development, implement the principle of the sovereign equality of states and guarantee the legitimate rights of the Cuban nation. (my bolds)

In case you have forgotten your high school history, the Munroe Doctrine of 1823 clearly states that European powers are not to interfere in the affairs of the Western Hemisphere since the Western Hemisphere is the United States' sphere of influence.  The Munroe Doctrine was symbolically invoked during the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis when the Soviet Union began to build missile launching infrastructure on Cuba. 

Here is a brief quote from Mr. Lavrov about the relationship between Russia and Cuba:

"Today, Cuba is Russia’s priority partner in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our multidimensional collaboration, based on strong traditions of friendship and cooperation, and objective commonality of interests, is looking towards the future. Our mutual determination for strengthening the Russian-Cuban strategic partnership has been confirmed in the course of regular high-level and top-level contacts.

The history of our bilateral relations is inseparable from the name of Fidel Castro, the leader and creator of the Cuban Revolution, and genuine leader of the persevering and tenacious people of Freedom Island. His was a personality of global scale, without exaggeration. We specifically developed an itinerary that will honour the Comandante’s memory, including a visit to Santa Ifigenia Cemetery, where other fighters for Cuba’s independence also rest in peace. This has great significance for me because in the eyes of many generations of Russians Fidel remains an example of true service to one’s country and people….

Russia and Cuba closely coordinate foreign policies. This coordination is based on adherence to the unshakable principles of international law, including respect for sovereign equality between states and non-intervention in their internal affairs."

Mr. Lavrov's second stop was in Mexico, America's next door neighbour and one of its biggest trading partners.  Here are some excerpts from a question and answer session held with the media after Lavrov's talks with Mexico's Secretary of Foreign Affairs of Mexico, Marcelo Luis Casaubon:

"As you may know, the ties between our two nations have a long history. They were officially established 130 years ago: next December will see their anniversary and we have arranged with our Mexican colleagues today to celebrate this memorial date fittingly.

We have confirmed our shared interest in strengthening bilateral relations in all areas without exception. We have discussed how to promote and intensify the political dialogue, including at the high and highest levels

There are good prospects in view, as we have confirmed today, in energy, car-making, shipbuilding, the aircraft industry, the chemical industry, pharmaceuticals, rail transport and agriculture. We have made good progress in the area of military-technical cooperation: Mexico operates about 50 Russian-made helicopters and a helicopter servicing centre with a pilot-training school attached to it. There are prospects in this area as well….

We share common approaches when it comes to international issues which we discussed at length. Like our Mexican friends, we stand firmly on the solid foundation of the UN Charter, the principles of respect for sovereignty and equality of states, non-interference in other countries’ domestic affairs and the settlement of disputes exclusively by peaceful means.

We compared notes on the UN General Assembly’s agenda. Mexico supports most of Russia’s initiatives, including resolutions on countering the glorification of Nazism, non-deployment of weapons in outer space, establishing cooperation to build trust in outer space, international information security and our new resolution, which was first introduced during the most recent General Assembly session, which Mexico strongly supported. It is about taking additional practical measures to strengthen and develop the framework for arms control agreements, disarmament and non-proliferation."

Once again, Mr. Lavrov brings up the Munroe Doctrine:

"We discussed the situation in Latin America and the Caribbean. Russia is interested in seeing this region as an important element of the emerging multipolar world order both now and in the future. We exchanged views on specific crises which continue unabated in the Latin American region and agreed that the attempts to reanimate neo-colonial doctrines, such as the Monroe Doctrine, or to repeat the scenarios of the infamous colour revolutions are fraught with a dangerous increase in tension. We share similar views regarding the situation in and around Venezuela. Like Russia, Mexico stands for resolving the problems that exist and are piling up in that country exclusively through a dialogue between the government and the opposition and an inclusive dialogue between all significant political forces in that country."

On his final stop, Mr. Lavrov met with Venezuela's President Nicolas Maduro and attended a meeting of the National Dialogue Roundtable in Caracas.  Let's look at key excerpts from his meeting with the National Dialogue Roundtable as shown here:

"First of all, I would like to thank you wholeheartedly for inviting me to speak at the National Dialogue Roundtable. It is the only effective format of talks between the Government and opposition in Venezuela. Regrettably, all the other formats have failed because of the ultimatums presented by the radical part of the opposition, which, as far as we can see, cares more about its own ambitions than about the future of their country and people.

It is a great honour for me to take part in this event, which is proof of the high level of mutual trust between our states.
Venezuela is a long-time partner of Russia in Latin America and the world as a whole. We are impressed by your country’s independent position on the international stage. We would like Venezuela, just as any other country, to be independent, politically stable and economically successful.

Regrettably, the ongoing crisis in and around Venezuela is rooted in the large-scale campaign launched to overturn the legitimate Government with the use of all available options, including military force, as the campaign’s organisers say. We consider such scenarios completely unacceptable. We will work consistently to ensure that they are condemned by the international community. We are acting in this spirit in our contacts with the United States, as well as at the UN Security Council. We insist that everyone must honour their international obligations under the UN Charter, which stipulate, in particular, a peaceful settlement of disputes and avoidance of the use or threat of force, as well as interference in the internal affairs of sovereign states.

We condemn the illegitimate methods of financial and economic pressure being used against Venezuela. I am referring to the sanctions and the attempts of extra-territorial application of national legislation. These restrictions and totally illegitimate external pressure are the main causes of the economic recession in Venezuela.

The obvious objective is to foster discontent and provoke social unrest by blocking the operations of the financial, oil and gold producing sectors of the Venezuelan economy. It is obvious that these sanctions affect above all the ordinary people regardless of their political affiliations. It is especially disgraceful that the unilateral US sanctions are having a negative impact on the implementation of social and humanitarian projects. A glaring example of the consequences of the recent banking restrictions is the blocking of the treatment programme for cancer patients carried out through a joint Venezuelan-Spanish project.

We have no doubt that the lifting of sanctions as soon as possible is a key priority for all patriotic Venezuelans. I am sure that the participants of this roundtable are keenly focused on this topic."

An interesting development took place after Lavrov's talks with Maduro in Venezuela as reported by Tass:

This most recent diplomatic tour of Latin America shows us that Russia is using Mr. Lavrov's extensive experience as a true diplomat to build positive relationships with some of Washington's most sanctioned "regimes".    Rather than gutting the United Nations as Washington is attempting to do, Russia is attempting to use the United Nations to work around Washington's "rules-based international order", the post-Second World War embodiment of liberal Western values which has left the Soviet Union/Russia and China as second class nations in a Western-dominated global reality.  Given Washington's repeated interference in nations around the world (i.e. the invasion of Iraq, the appearance of America's military in Syria, interference in Venezuela's domestic affairs and a litany of sanctions against nations around the globe among others), is it any wonder that Russia is appealing to the reimposition of a more fairly balanced diplomacy that doesn't always favour Washington's world view to the exclusion of all other viewpoints?

Russia is, indeed, playing in America's backyard, an issue that must be causing great consternation in Washington which has taken an anti-Russia at all costs approach to the world of today.


  1. The Chatham House opinion makes no reference to the UN Charter and to the idea of independence and sovereignty of nations...which are or should be the pillar of any order. The obfuscation on these foundational ideas, generated after the 30 years war in Europe is very telling, and Mr. Lavrov's and Russia's attempt to revive and consolidate these principles are sorely needed!

  2. Those wishing to strengthen the UN Charter, the equality of nations and respect for sovereignty should take note of Canada's current campaign to win a rotating seat on the Security Council. Unless General Assembly members want another obedient stooge to the Monroe Doctrine, they should vote for Ireland and Norway instead. The Canadian government loves Bolsonaro, Duque and Moreno; supports coups in Haiti, Honduras and Guatemala; and hates Venezuela and Nicaragua. -- signed, a Canadian