The Russians Are Back in Cuba

Fernando Ravsberg*

Vladimir Putin and Raul Castro in Havana on  July 11, 2014.
Vladimir Putin and Raul Castro in Havana on July 11, 2014.

HAVANA TIMES — Few times does one witness – within the course of 50 years – a historical cycle like the one Cuba and Russia have just closed. Relations between the two countries will of course not be guided by the same parameters, but the fact of the matter is that Havana and Moscow are once again aware that they need one another.

Shortly after arriving in the island in 1990, I recall how relations between the two countries fell apart and everyone, friend or foe of the Cuban revolution, believed the break-up was so definitive that they could never again be mended.

At the time, the supermarket in my neighborhood began to sell boxes of citric products for export and many of my neighbors felt happy about this, not seeing that this transitory abundance stemmed from the end of a system of preferential trade and was the prelude to the most severe shortages Cuba had ever experienced.

The Russians told Cuba there would be no more subsidies, that, as of that moment, if they wanted trade with the country, they would have to pay in hard currency like the rest of the world. Fidel Castro replied that, in that case, they were no longer interested in the garbage their former socialist brothers were selling them.

Tensions grew even more when Moscow demanded that Cuba settle its 35 billion dollar debt to Russia and Cuba reminded the Kremlin that the debt was in rubles, not dollars. Cuba also demanded compensation for Russia’s failure to fulfill a number of contracts, such as the one for the construction of the Juragua nuclear power plant, which Moscow refused to complete.

Cuba and Russia have a long history of military collaboration. The rockets of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are still on display in Havana.
Cuba and Russia have a long history of military collaboration. The rockets of the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis are still on display in Havana.

Bilateral relations reached an all-time low in 2001, when Vladimir Putin ordered the dismantling of Lourdes, a military base located in the outskirts of Havana designed to spy on communications from the east coast of the United States.

Cuba – Russia Relations Restored

Less temperamental than his brother, Raul Castro worked to restore bilateral relations between the two countries from the moment he took power. He did so through Russia’s Armed Forces, an institution that has almost the same interests it had under Soviet rule.

Intergovernmental relations broadened, but there is now doubt General Castro had his closest contacts among Russia’s military. So close, in fact, that, during a trip to Asia, he made a long stopover in a small Russian airport to meet with personal friends of his in the military.

Raul Castro worked his ties with Moscow with the precision of a clockmaker and the discretion of a confessor, as evidenced by the fact he appointed his own son, Colonel Alejandro Castro, to discuss the most sensitive issues with the Russians: the military and security.

The West took care of the rest, as they did in the 60s. The difference is that, at the beginning of the Cuban revolution, they pushed Havana into the arms of the Soviet Union, and, today, they’ve done exactly the opposite: they forced Russia to re-establish relations with the island.

Cuba continues to be 90 miles away from the United States and the countries’ bilateral enmity continues. These two factors make Havana one of the most secure and reliable allies the Kremlin could hope for in the region. The rapprochement is a natural response to NATO, which closes in on Russia’s borders more and more.

Despite their falling out in the 1990s, relations between Cuba and Russia were re-established gradually, and to such an extent that an Orthodox Russian Church was built in Havana.
Despite their falling out in the 1990s, relations between Cuba and Russia were re-established gradually, and to such an extent that an Orthodox Russian Church was built in Havana.

What’s more, when it comes to trade, Cuba is the only country in Latin America in which Russia does not have to compete with Washington’s interests. The United States’ economic embargo, which Cuba has endured for over half a century, again paves the road for Moscow to step in.

Another important difference is that, in the 60s, Cuba was isolated. Today, by contrast, it is part of organizations seeking integration, maintains relations with all countries in the continent (except, of course, for the United States) and has close ties to some powerful nations, such as Venezuela, Brazil, Argentina and Mexico.

Pragmatism has prevailed in Cuba-Russia relations. Havana has now rid itself of its largest debt, is guaranteeing significant Russian investments in sectors such as air transportation, energy and oil and has secured an alliance with all of the BRICS countries, an indispensible move for a nation that does not enjoy the sympathies of Western powers.

All the while, Russia secures a safe port in Latin America where it can dock its military and commercial “vessels.” It trades an unpayable, 3-billion dollar debt for investments at Cuba’s Mariel Port and receives authorization to prospect Cuban waters for oil.
(*) Visit the blog of Fernando Ravsberg.

8 thoughts on “The Russians Are Back in Cuba

  • Once again the dishonest haters and paid ideologues feel compelled to add lies and distortions instead of dealing with the events and report. Cuba and USSR/Russia are not “paranoid” about US efforts as long as it is US policy and practice to destroy their governments and maintain US imperial hegemony. But of course no dialog is possible or worthwhile with those who either deny the existence of Imperialism or wish its success.

  • Typo: “there is now doubt General Castro had his closest contacts among Russia’s military…” should read “there is no doubt…”

  • Stalin did not train as a Jesuit. He was born & raise in Georgia, which is not a Catholic country. He attended Georgian Orthodox Tiflis Spiritual Seminary in Tbilisi until he was expelled for stabbing a classmate. Psychologically, Stalin displays all the traits of a sociopathic malignant narcissist. This explains why other narcissists have found Stalin such an appealing role model.

    The concept of the Soviet New Man preceded Stalin. Lenin & Trotsky both wrote and spoke about it. The New Man is presented as a political development, but is in fact an artifact of the dysfunctional narcissistic psychology common among utopian revolutionaries. The belief that a superior New Man will be born when he sheds all that is bad in him reflects the structure of the narcissistic mind: a mask of intense self-admiration hiding a deep self-loathing. From this flows the Personality Cults, the paranoia, the intolerance of all criticism and the tendency toward violent destruction of all enemies which is present on all of these Marxist dictatorships.

  • As God sacrificed his own son it is possible that he had admiration for the Russian system of purges and slave labour in the Siberian Gulags. Although the sacrifices made by Russians, Ukrainians and others in the Socialist Empire through the Russian system were substantial at about 18 million, the sacrifice made by China under Mao Tse Tung were even greater at about 22 million. As one operating his own system, the National Socialist Adolf Hitler was a poor third at about 11 million of whom over 50% were Jewish. Your teary eyes for such a holy union is based I imagine upon the religious link which Stalin as one who spent four years training for the Jesuit priesthood has with President Fidel Castro Ruz a Grade III Jesuit. It was Stalin’s concept of the ‘New Man” which Dr. Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara copied and unsuccessfully endeavored to introduce to Cuba.
    I think it probable that your religious fervour for Stalin’s Russian system and admiration for his achievements will pass upwards to him and hope that that will act as a balm for your teary eyes.

  • The advantages that Fernando lists coming from a renewed public relationship between Russia and Cuba is best described as “putting lipstick on a pig”. Today’s Russia is one-tenth the economic power of the former Soviet Republic. Cuba, as a partner, is far less stable economically and produces no sugar for export. The world’s best efforts to find and extract Cuban oil have already been expended. It is unlikely with today’s technology that Russia will be able to do any better. The debt Putin forgave was a debt that had never been paid. It’s forgiveness looks good on paper but has no impact on improving Cuban cashflows. Russia, despite Putin’s preening, is struggling economically and demographically. As before, there is little in common between the Russian people and the Cubans. Raul Castro’s personal affinity with key Russian leaders is helpful today but has little currency in maintaining a healthy long term affiliation. Lets be honest, the only thing these two countries really have in common is their mutual paranoia of US influence.

  • What God has joined together let no man put us under. My Guido, whom spoke seven languages , would have been proud . As for me , I am teary eyed to see such a holy union. Recently celebrating Victory Day with a close friend , we agreed that the sacrifice made by Russia was supreme to all other nations. Their system of the day was a God send to all humanity.
    Thank you

  • I was in the new Melia Marina Varadero resort in January and there was a lot of young Russian tourists and nearly all spoke very good English.

  • You don’t want my opinion, however when you park on my border, I will park on yours.

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