ROAR: “Cuba may occupy a new place in world architecture”

Vladimir Kremlev for RT
Moscow will continue to strengthen “balanced relations” with Central American countries despite Washington’s “suspicions”, analysts say.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov has visited Cuba as part of his tour to Latin America. He will also travel to Nicaragua, Guatemala and Mexico.

For Russia, Cuba remains a key partner in the Latin American region. Lavrov’s visit to Cuba is intended to maintain the intensive political cooperation and to contribute to broader bilateral relations in various spheres,” Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Andrey Nesterenko said. He also stressed that the two countries are working to improve the level of bilateral trade, which “objectively does not correspond to the existing potential of our countries.”

In Havana, Lavrov and Cuban President Raul Castro also attended the opening of Havana’s International Book Fair.

The visit will become a pert of “the Russian diplomatic expansion” in the region, which has stepped up after the August 2008 events in the North Caucasus,” Emil Dabagyan, a senior researcher of the Institute of Latin American studies, told Kommersant daily.

Lavrov’s visit to Cuba is devoted not only to the bilateral relations, believes Vitaly Makarov, who prior to the breakup of the Soviet Union was responsible for relations with Cuba at the international department of the Communist Party’s central committee.

The agenda is “much broader, which is only logical,” Makarov noted, writing for Kommersant. Cuba may occupy “a new place in the world architecture if the process of creating polycentric international system is successful,” he stressed.

One of the main issues of current politics – resetting Russian-US relations – “requires not only overhauling many bilateral principles, but also taking into account a number of international factors, including those linked to Cuba,” he said.

“That country was one of the main irritants in our relations with Washington for many years,” Makarov said. “Since the breakup of the USSR we have become estranged from Cuba, which we once called the Island of freedom,” he noted. However, not long ago “a new rapprochement between Moscow and Havana began,” he said.

“Clearly, Washington is watching this suspiciously, and it could not be otherwise” Makarov said. “Cuban geopolitical situation for centuries has determined the competition between the Old World and the New World for influence on that country,” he added. “And this competition continues, affecting, in particular, Russian-US relations.”

As for Havana’s position, it deserves respect even thanks to the fact that Cubans “have already been following the way of independence for half a century,” the analyst said. “There is no longer an ideological opposition between Russia and the US, and the opportunities of Russian and American cooperation with Cuba have grown significantly,” he said.

At the same time, these opportunities depend in many ways on taking into account the positions of all sides, especially Cuba “as the most sensitive partner in relations with the giants in this group of three,” Makarov said. “That is why Moscow supports the demand that the blockade against Cuba should be lifted.”

Lavrov will also visit other South American countries that “are increasingly becoming a new center of international political alignment,” Makarov said. They now have their own interests in world politics that in many ways do not coincide with US interests, he noted. But Russia’s course towards strengthening partnership with the countries of the region “is a strategic one, and is not aimed against other states, as some analysts say,” Makarov stressed.

Meanwhile, the long-awaited normalization of relations between Havana and Washington is being delayed, despite the efforts by the new Cuban leadership, Kommersant said. For some time, Havana expected huge US investment, and “was not in a hurry to make steps that could irritate Washington,” it added.

In particular, Raul Castro did not follow the example of the presidents of Venezuela and Nicaragua in recognizing the independence of the former Georgian regions of Abkhazia and South Ossetia, the paper noted.

Now the situation has changed, and Washington “has prolonged an embargo for a year,” said Emil Dabagyan of the Institute of Latin American Studies. It has not been ruled out that Moscow may promote Russian investment in Cuba “if Havana recognizes the independence of the two former Georgian republics,” the daily said.

Moscow will continue to develop ties with Cuba in any case, many other observers say. The former Soviet Union subsidized the Cuban economy in the 1960s-1990s and helped other Latin American countries to build infrastructure facilities. Many specialists from the region studied at Soviet universities.

However, in the first half of the 1990s “the relations between Russia and Latin American countries failed,” Krasnaya Zvezda newspaper said. “Our passivity in political and economic spheres was absolute,” it added. Recently, the situation has started to change for the better, and several major Russian corporations have sent representatives to the region.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Raul Castro exchanged visits in 2008-2009, and Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin has traveled to the island on several occasions.

Russia is interested in cooperation with Latin American countries to strengthen its position on world markets, the paper said. But achieving that aim will not be easy because of competition with the US, which is resisting “the attempts of aliens” to enter the region, it added.

At the same time, such countries as Venezuela, Brazil, Bolivia, Nicaragua and Cuba are interested “in reducing economic dependence on the US dollar and the interests of transnational financial structures,” the paper noted.

Russia’s relations with Nicaragua have boosted after the Central American country recognized the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in 2009.

The media, however, describe Lavrov’s visit to Latin America as “balanced.” Cuba and Nicaragua belong to the so called “left belt,” and Guatemala and Mexico are “center right” countries, Rossiyskaya Gazeta daily said. The previous visits of the Russian foreign minister to the region were balanced as well, the paper noted.

Sergey Borisov, RT