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The Soviet Union’s understanding of doctrinal internationalism split the world into regional spheres of influence, but with a caveat. The popular adage of the Brezhnev Doctrine’s “what’s mine is mine and what’s yours is up for grabs” principle, was the cornerstone of Soviet foreign policy. It has been carried forward by the post-Soviet authoritarian regime of Vladimir Putin. Russia’s blatant disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty and the civilized order of political relations is evidence of this. Recent declarations by high-ranking American military leaders and State Department officials have issued stark security warnings. Could Russia be plotting a Latin American, Ukraine-like, war front?
During a Senate Foreign Affairs Committee hearing on March 31, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Public Diplomacy, Policy, Planning, and Coordination, Kerri Hannan, testified about Russia’s threat in the Western Hemisphere. “The commitment to democracy in the Hemisphere has never seemed so urgent,” Hannan stated and added that “while Russia tramples on Ukraine’s democracy and threatens to export the Ukrainian crisis to the Americas, expanding its military cooperation with Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela.” GOP Senator Marco Rubio (FL) concurred with the State Department official and said, “Russia is an acute problem, and it is a current challenge.”
Hannan’s testimonial declaration is not an isolated assessment. General Laura J. Richardson, the commander of the U.S. Southern Command, raised similar concerns on March 8 over Russian collusion with Latin American socialist dictatorships. Before members of the House Armed Services Committee, Richardson said that “Threats in South America, include transnational criminal organization as well as the meddling of both China and Russia.” The four-star general highlighted to Congress that “Russia, a more immediate threat, is increasing its engagements in the hemisphere.”
Yury Borisov, the Kremlin’s deputy prime minister, said in January that he could “neither affirm nor exclude” whether Russia would send military assets to Cuba or Venezuela. It is worth noting that days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Borisov paid a visit to Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Dictator Putin has developed a close relationship with the tyrannical troika of Miguel Díaz-Canel, Nicolás Maduro, and Daniel Ortega. Russian state news agencies have made no secret of this alliance. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in an address to the State Duma (Russia’s figurative parliament) in January that “the three friendly countries agreed to consider ways to further deepen our strategic partnership in each and every field.”
Putin’s top diplomat simply stated an obvious fact. Except for an 8-year hiatus (1991-1999), Russia has maintained a tight bond with Latin American socialism. The former KGB officer, undoubtedly, revamped the post-totalitarian model from which he came. The mixture of a crony and state capitalist-driven economy, Putinism shares many key characteristics with the São Paulo Forum’s dictatorial prototype, that concocted scheme devised by the deceased Cuban tyrant, Fidel Castro, in reaction to the fall of Soviet communism.
The Soviet Union invested heavily in promoting communism in the Americas. Putin’s willingness to forgive $53 billion of Russian debt owed by the Castro-Communist dictatorship, reflects the understanding of a partnered relationship. Russia’s activism in Latin America, following in the USSR’s footsteps, is channeled through Castro’s Cuba. The Russian GPS satellite spy base on the outskirts of Managua, the expansive military hardware transfer to Venezuela, and the espionage experimentation that, most likely, resulted in the Havana Syndrome in Cuba, all predate the invasion of Ukraine.
Putin may be seeking to scare the U.S.; threats of bringing the Russo-Ukrainian War into America’s backyard could shed, however, surprising consequences for his regime, as well as Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. The people in those three captive nations could emulate the Ukrainians. A revolt is a possibility. If the Russian dictator arms and uses Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan territory, they would be considered complicit war allies, like Belarus.
Such a scenario would prompt the West to extend sanctions against the three socialist regimes. Given the mixing of geography and national security, the U.S. and NATO would likely send war vessels to the Gulf of Mexico, the Florida Straits, and the Caribbean Sea. Putin has proved to be a bumbling war strategist. The Cuban, Venezuelan, and Nicaraguan dictatorships are probably more concerned than Washington and Brussels over the Kremlin’s diatribes. Ukraine may well be a key to freedom in Latin America.
Julio M Shiling, political scientist, writer, director of Patria de Martí and The Cuban American Voice, lecturer and media commentator. A native of Cuba, he currently lives in the United States. Twitter: @JulioMShiling // Julio es politólogo, escritor, director de Patria de Martí y The Cuban American Voice. Conferenciante y comentarista en los medios. Natural de Cuba, vive actualmente en EE UU.