New concessions in Cuba-Russia alliance show how little has changed since Cold War
Last week, reports surfaced that the Cuban regime is sending troops to train in Belarus to support the Russian war effort in Ukraine.
The revelation comes just days after Cuban Interior Minister Lazaro Alvarez Casas went to Moscow to meet with Russian Security Secretary Nikolai Patrushev, who was sanctioned by the U.S. in 2018 for “serious human rights violations” under the Magnitsky Act. The two countries met at the 11th International Meeting of High Representatives for Security Issues, during which they entered a cooperative security agreement.
A longtime ally of the Kremlin, Cuban military personnel are familiar with Russian weaponry and should be useful in training pro-Moscow forces counteracting the West’s efforts to protect Ukraine. While Cuba’s gesture is a clear act of hostility against U.S. efforts to support its allies, Havana–Moscow cooperation should come as no surprise, considering how little has changed since the Cold War despite propaganda from Cuba that suggests otherwise.
The reality is that Cuba has engaged in systematic and continuous collaboration with Russia since Fidel Castro began to form an alliance with Nikita Khrushchev’s USSR shortly after coming to power. While Moscow may have changed its Marxist-Leninist political identity with the collapse of the Soviet Union, its political aims have remained the same, as evidenced by Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and hostilities against other former Soviet satellite countries.
Unfortunately, Russia’s interest in advancing its influence is not limited to Eurasia. Its determination to influence the Western Hemisphere goes to the heart of the long-running Cuba-Russia relationship. With Cuba’s help, Moscow has dominated the information warfare field all over Central and South America, transmitting three times as much government-sponsored news content as Voice of America and her sister networks do. While the U.S. has focused on Eurasia, President Ronald Reagan’s prediction about the dominoes falling in Latin America is being borne out as regional economic powers such as Brazil, Chile, Colombia and Mexico have voted out their free-market leaders in favor of socialist ones.
“In the span of five months, seven Kremlin officials have visited Cuba,” wrote Alvaro Alba of the U.S. government’s Cuba broadcasting network, Radio and Television Martí. “In March, the CEO of the state-owned oil company Rosneft, Igor Sechin, and the Secretary of the Security Council of Russia, Nikolai Patrushev, were in Havana. One month later, the Russian Foreign Minister, Sergey Lavrov, and the President of the Duma, Vyacheslav Volodin, who had also been in Cuba in February 2022, days before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, visited the island. And now in May, the Russian presidential advisor, Maxim Oreshkin, the President of the Cuba-Russia Business Council, Boris Titov, and the Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitry Chernishenko, have visited Cuba. No other Third World country has had so many Russians visit in such a short period of time.”
The purpose of these visits was to escalate economic and military cooperation between the two countries, placing the U.S. and her allies at greater risk. In January 2022, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov teased the idea of potential Russian military deployments to Cuba and Venezuela if the U.S. supported Ukraine or NATO accepted more European members. Russian military deployments to Cuba are not altogether unlikely since Havana is getting unprecedented access to the Kremlin.
Decades ago, it would have been unthinkable that the nationalist 1959 Cuban Revolution would hand over key industries, cede control of land and pledge its armed forces to a foreign power. But almost two years after an islandwide civic uprising that coincided with the deaths of the regime’s top generals, the Cuban government is desperate to salvage the island’s collapsing economy and crumbling armed forces. As such, Havana has entered a 30-year lease. granting control over the Sancti Spiritus sugar mill while allowing Russian companies to use land without paying tariffs, creating opportunities for Moscow to build military bases.
The Cuban military will also reap security benefits from its involvement with Russia. It will be able to obtain the weapons and armor it needs to continue repressing Cubans in the wake of being cut off by Spanish suppliers. The presence of the Russians in Cuba may also prevent dissent among police officers and military personnel that oppose repression. As with the Kennedy-Khrushchev Agreement borne out of the 1962 Cuban missile crisis, the communist dictatorship in Cuba sees the Russian alliance as a shield against a successful uprising by its own people.
Since 2020, police officers have hidden their faces when repressing Cuban citizens if they are being recorded. This reveals new fears that signal the lack of confidence that government forces have in the regime, and like many young Cuban professionals fleeing the country en masse, they, too, have lost faith in its promises. In today’s age of social media, it is becoming harder to conceal the truth from Cubans or divide the exile community from their relatives on the island.
Simply put, the Cuban government knows there are cracks in its foundation, and it is only a matter of time before it collapses. To that end, the regime’s oligarchs are openly seeking advice from Russia on how to replicate its model of enriching a well-connected few while impoverishing the many.
Havana’s panicked bet on Moscow is a replay of how regimes in crisis, such as Syria, seek sanctuary from Russian President Vladimir Putin at the zero hour, all the while transmitting a mirage of success to its people. In the end, however, Russia, which faces a historic peak of isolation, will not be able to save the island dictatorship.
Illusions do not last forever, and as history proved with the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, neither does tyranny.
• Jeffrey Scott Shapiro is the former director of the U.S. Office of Cuba Broadcasting now serving as a Washington Times editorial board member. Orlando Gutierrez Boronat is the coordinator of the Assembly of the Cuban Resistance, a U.S.-based nonprofit, pro-democracy coalition. Gelet Martinez Fragela is the editor of the human rights news sites ADN Cuba (adncuba.com) and ADN America (adnamerica.com).