Cuba and Russia

Diplomatic ties between the Soviet Union and Cuba were established after the 1959 Cuban Revolution. Cuba became dependent on Soviet markets and military aid and was a major ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War. The main reason for the close ties was ideologic as they were both communist countries opposing American capitalism and imperialism. Post Soviet Union and post Castro has meant challenges for the once close ties, but recently Cuba and Russia have tried to revigorated the relationship.

As Cuba’s economy continues to lag, the small island’s government is hoping a deal hammered out with Russian leaders will boost its economy and better relations with a global power. Sugar production has long led Cuba’s manufacturing but has recently collapsed to extreme lows. The country is hoping to rebuild its sugar industry as well as other industries, such as construction, oil, rum, and tourism, with the help of Russia.

Cuban and Russian leaders released a new plan meant to aid the economies of each country. Cuba is promising Russia preferential treatment in accessing Cuban property, markets, and labor, rarely given out to foreign actors within the borders of the island. The government promised Russia an exemption from its import taxes. It also has allowed Russian companies to use Cuban land for at least 30 years, which comes as Cuban citizens only have recently been given limited property rights. These companies will have access to more land than Cuban private citizens and companies have had since 1959. They will have more favorable conditions of ownership with lower costs and fewer regulations. Cuba and Russia are looking into ways to expedite shipping between the nations, which is currently difficult. They aim to mirror maritime structures that Russian officials say existed between Cuba and the Soviet Union prior to the latter’s collapse.

Last week, a fleet of Russian ships plus nuclear submarine arrived at Cuban port of Havana, remaining for five days. Both Cuba and Russia said the operation corresponded to the historical relations of friendship between the two countries and occurs within the framework of international cooperation that exists between them. This created much tension in Washington DC. As a result, the Pentagon sent its own nuclear-powered fast-attack submarine to the US navy base in Guantanamo Bay, about 500 miles southeast from where the Russian ships were docked. The Russian move comes at a particularly tense time between Washington and Moscow, several weeks after Joe Biden decided to escalate the U.S. proxy war in Ukraine by agreeing to allow Ukraine to strike inside Russia with American weapons.

As Russia is attempting to build alternate structures of power to combat the U.S., trade deals like the one with Cuba have large implications for the influence of the west. With Cuba serving as an outpost for civilian business ventures, Russia will extend its influence greatly to only 90 miles from the U.S. and closer to nations like Venezuela, Mexico, and more recently Brazil, which at times are drifting from U.S. influence due to ideological differences. Although there is no official government presence, Russia is extending its economic reliance to nations extremely close to the U.S., positioning Cuba as an entry point of influence into the western hemisphere. Such trade deals also indicate Russian expansion despite conflict on its own borders, sanctions, and global condemnation. With such close ties to Cuba, Russia can expand its economic influence overseas to these nations looking for alternatives to U.S. trade and influence. Cuba can also do the same with its domestically produced goods as it also seeks to build trade networks that exclude the U.S.

For Cuba, this deal may deeply impact internal as well as external dealings. As the U.S. continues to waver on whether to slowly warm to Cuba, a turn towards Russia has the potential to slow any growth of relations between the two nations. It similarly decreases the chance of interaction between Cuba and possible European partners. Either way, it is positive for Russia to keep extending and deepening its cooperation to other countries and allies. The U.S. will not change any time soon, so there is a trend towards the existence of an U.S.-friendly group of countries and an anti-U.S. group of countries. This is likely to continue and deepen, so countries better align themselves properly and quickly.   

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