Russia’s strategic expansion in Latin America: the case of Cuba

Recent commercial projects between Russia and Cuba echo the friendly Soviet-Cuban alliance of the twentieth century. Although the two nations share a history of cyber security and intelligence gathering, President Vladimir Putin and Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel have pledged to revive robust bilateral ties in a number of trade sectors, including energy, transport and agriculture. The Cuban Communist Party praised Cuba’s imminent relations with Russia as being ‘at their best moment in 20 years’. That being said, could the prospect for mutual socio-economic development, directed by Russia, be concealing a more profound political agenda?

Not only has Russia erased most of the debt Cuba had accumulated in the Soviet era, amounting to over 22 billion GBP in total, but it has also emerged as an alternative source of investment amidst US-Cuban diplomatic hostility. Bilateral trade has doubled to just under 400 million GBP in 2019, compared to 2013, as the latest figures illustrate. The biggest projects backed by Moscow include a nationwide upgrade of Cuba’s railway system, costing 2 billion USD and spanning over a decade, as well as a plan to install four electrical generators (200 megawatts each) over the next five years, at the expense of 1 billion USD.

The decline of subsidised crude oil from Venezuela, given its unstable political climate, among other hardships, notably the US embargo, has compelled the island’s government to identify more local, cost-effective substitutes to the importation of fuel. In this regard, the state-controlled Russian energy company Rosneft has negotiated an agreement with its Cuban counterpart, CUPET, to explore potential oil fields off the island’s coast. A reduced dependency on foreign petroleum will simultaneously increase the country’s energy security, sidestepping tighter economic sanctions imposed by the US Government.

While the list of Russian investments in Cuba continues, and Russia’s Prime Minister Dimitri Medvedev reaffirms the ‘mutually beneficial’ nature of Russo-Cuban relations which refrain from complimentary Soviet-style assistance, Moscow’s motivations of a renewed partnership cannot exclusively comprise economic prosperity.