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Pragmatic agenda: Lavrov tours Latin America to foster cooperation, not to spite Washington

Pragmatic agenda: Lavrov tours Latin America to foster cooperation, not to spite Washington
The Russian foreign minister’s three-day trip to Latin America has provoked nervous reactions in the US, where it is assumed to be part of an anti-American agenda even though Moscow has legitimate economic interests in the region.

During the trip that started on Wednesday, Sergey Lavrov is scheduled to pay one-day visits to Cuba, Mexico and Venezuela – setting the tongues wagging in Washington.

The Hill branded the whole trip a “show of support” for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, whom US President Donald Trump had just declared a “dictator” while offering support to self-proclaimed “interim leader” Juan Guaido. 

Even Reuters has insinuated that Lavrov was “sent” by the Kremlin to Caracas to somehow “counteract” American sanctions. The standard line of mainstream media outlets seems to be that Moscow seeks to “strengthen influence in the region.”

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The fact that Lavrov’s visit comes less than a week after US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s own charm offensive in the four former Soviet Republics – Belarus, Ukraine, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan – only added fuel to the fire of speculation about Moscow’s symbolic reciprocation in Washington’s “backyard.”

The mere possibility that Lavrov’s trip might be entirely unrelated to the US and have more to do with Russian interests and policies was not entertained.

Development & cooperation

In an interview to the Havana-based Prensa Latina news agency ahead of his visit, Lavrov mentioned that Russia and Cuba are working together on a whole range of large-scale projects in the fields of energy, transport, communication, biotechnologies and even space.

“We cherish the fact that Cuban authorities give Russia a very special role in modernization of their national economy,” the minister said, praising the decades-long “traditions of friendship and cooperation.”

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Even though Mexico is one of Moscow’s biggest trading partners in the region, second only to Brazil, the last time a Russian foreign minister visited Mexico City was in 2010.

“We have one of the largest trade volumes in the region with Mexico as well as a rich cooperation agenda – particularly in the field of science and technology,” Dmitry Razumovsky, from the Latin American Studies Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, told RT. “This trip was long planned to sort out the issues that accumulated over the past years.”

Lavrov’s agenda is a pragmatic one.

Meeting with Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard likewise makes sense in light of the new Mexican government advocating a new social and economic strategy that would make them less dependent on the US, said Oleg Barabanov, MGIMO University deputy director for research at the European Studies Institute and Valdai Discussion Club program director.

As for Venezuela, Russia has “important investments” in oil and gas assets there, Andres Serbin of the Latin American think-tank CRIES and the Latin American Studies Association (LASA), told RT. Russia’s oil giant Rosneft in particular has shares in five Venezuelan companies. That does not mean Moscow is not interested in a peaceful solution to the political crisis in Caracas, however.

“All international actors involved in the Venezuelan crisis are probably looking for a peaceful resolution,” Serbin, who is also an expert at the Valdai Club, said.

Barabanov noted that Washington’s “blitzkrieg” strategy in Venezuela has proven ineffective, since the US protégé Juan Guaido failed to overthrow President Maduro over the last year. Now a window has opened for “enhancing contacts and developing economic projects.”

“The goal is to make sure that [Russia and Venezuela] are on the same page and define a new strategy of bilateral relations,” Barabanov told RT.

Relics of imperialism

While official Washington has yet to react to Lavrov’s trip, last month the head of the US Southern Command (SOUTHCOM), Admiral Craig Faller, described Russia as a “malign actor” that has a hand in “deliberately” eroding stability in Latin America.

“The US always tries to depict Russia as an aggressor,” said Egor Lidovsky from the Hugo Chavez Latin American culture center. “But Russia supports legitimate governments through diplomatic and economic ties.”

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Even though it’s 2020, the US view of Latin America seems stuck in the 1820s. The “archaic” Monroe doctrine – declaring the entire Western hemisphere America’s exclusive area of interest – still holds say in Washington, Lavrov noted in the interview with Prensa Latina.

This essentially amounts to neo-colonialism, according to Barabanov, as the US treats Latin American countries as some kind of vassals, while Moscow believes they are independent countries and “nothing is actually stopping Russia” from developing relations with them.

“The US fails to keep in mind that Latin America has long been an independent region,” said Lidovsky.

Instead, Washington clings to policies such as sanctions. Both the 60-year blockade of Cuba and the recent barrage of sanctions against Venezuela violate international law and punish the ordinary inhabitants, even as the US says it “stands with the people” and against the “regimes” it wishes to overthrow.

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