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Putin’s Soviet Ambitions on the March in Latin America

By: Malgorzata Lange - @MalgoLange - May 7, 2015, 9:52 am
Putin tiene una agenda en Latinoamérica que ha encontrado eco (Eju.tv)
Putin’s political project has found many sympathizers in Latin America. (Eju.tv)

EspañolWhen Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the disintegration of the Soviet Union was the greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century, he was perhaps taking the unusual step of expressing his genuine feelings in a public forum. Lamentably few in the West gave this moment of sincerity the reflection it merited. It presaged how Moscow, backed by an autocratic state apparatus, would soon try to wipe out this feeling of catastrophe and place Russia as a strong and terrifying actor on the global stage once more.

While we looked with “surprise” and at the happenings in Georgia and Moldavia, and were outraged with Russia’s intervention in Ukraine, Western representatives lost all their credibility: complaining a lot and doing little, placing risible sanctions on Russia far too late to affect any change.

Again, we misunderstand — and underestimate — the strategy of a wounded and fragile country, and how its leaders are amassing serious political capital with the promise of reconstructing the “Greater Russia.” Putin, alternating between being president and prime minister, has assumed the costs of his new geopolitical project without flinching, losing friends in the West as well as Russia’s membership in elite international clubs.

As a result, the international isolation of Russia has damaged its commercial performance and economic indicators. Yet at the same time, the popularity of the president has grown without precedent on the domestic political scene. Putin is a good strategist.

At the international level, the Russian president hasn’t universally refrained from holding out the hand of friendship. Geopolitical reconstruction in the 21st century has no reason to base itself on the models of the past. The international panorama is, in many respects, different, and the geopolitical pressure points must necessarily be new and adopted to the contingencies and possibilities of a new era.

In this context, Russia is courting the countries of Latin America. Moscow is seeking allies beyond mere commercial partners, the Financial Times explains. Considering to the undemocratic origin of Russia’s current regime (according to Freedom House, Russia currently belongs to the group of states judged to be “not free”), there are various countries in the region that feel affinities with its authoritarian character, and are happy to embrace the Russian Bear.

The Russian diplomatic offensive in Latin America has accelerated since the occupation of Crimea and the beginning of the hybrid war in Ukraine. In 2014, there were multiple moves towards closer cooperation, such as the visit of Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov to Chile in May; Putin’s tour to Cuba, Nicaragua, and Argentina, which culminated at the BRICS summit in July; the journey of Peruvian President Ollanta Humala to Moscow in November, and the continued strengthening of relations with Venezuela.

Ties between Argentina and Russia were recently reaffirmed with the visit of President Cristina Kirchner to Moscow. Although analysts indicate that the agreements reached are still modest, Buenos Aires and Moscow have made deals on gas, energy, agriculture, and military equipment. Diplomacy is largely deeds, symbols, and postures, those words spoken and those left unsaid. This visit was no coincidence.

The two states have supported each other mutually in international forums, offering each other votes, alliances, and reciprocal loyalty. Argentina abstained from the UN vote to not recognize Russia’s annexation of Crimea, while Russia supports Argentina’s claim to the Falkland Islands.

On the other hand, and in parallel with the new chapter of relations between the United States and Cuba, Russia is beginning a “new honeymoon” with Havana, including the modernization of Soviet-era factories and infrastructure across the island.

Putin and Russia have to secure many open fronts, and they’re doing so with skill, while the United States and the European Union continue to work without a unified posture.

Politically speaking, of course, no one is doing a favor to the Kremlin. Several of the countries that have stretched out their hands towards Moscow are received with praise and the renewed aid and interest of the largest country in the world. The countries that receive and are received by Putin feel supported at a time when their regional isolation increases, they feel backed in the anti-democratic thrust of their policies, and the hardships that their disastrous economic strategies have produced are vindicated.

The new geopolitical grand design is gaining ground and power, and to call Putin irrational is, from the political point of view, simply useless.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

Malgorzata Lange Malgorzata Lange

Malgorzata Lange is a native of Poland who lives in Santiago de Chile. She holds degrees in political science and international Relations, and is a PhD candidate at the Pontifical Catholic University of Chile. She is also a radio panelist on international politics issues. Follow @MalgoLange.