The new rapprochement between the U.S. and Cuba is further proof of the ability of diplomacy to overcome seemingly irreconcilable differences between two sides. Russia should take note.
A new era in U.S.-Cuban relations began with little fanfare when an agreement between the two nations to resume normal ties on July 20, 2015 came into force. Photo: AP
The restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba has garnered broad international support, yet at the same time, has provoked a barrage of obsolete propaganda clichés in both Russian and Western media.
In the debate on the U.S.-Cuba rapprochement, the Russian press was more focused on the fate of the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay and Russia’s potential use of the island for military purposes than on the improved prospects for ordinary Cubans from the lifting of sanctions and the gradual return to democracy.
Part of the controversy surrounding the base stems from a statement by the director of the Miami Institute of Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, Jaime Suchlicki, that the White House and the Pentagon do not want to return the base at Guantanamo to the Cubans for fear that they will let Russia use it.
“[Russia] doesn’t need the base at Guantanamo. It’s a wretched place with a bad reputation, and Havana should seek permanent closure and realignment,” stated National Defense magazine editor-in-chief Igor Korotchenko.
“As for our military interests in Cuba, the country is certainly of interest as a calling point for Russian warships and nuclear submarines on combat missions in the Western Hemisphere to take a breather, change crews, stock up on water and fuel, and carry out maintenance.”
The military expert believes the same holds true for Russian long-range aircraft making scheduled landings for rest and refueling.
Read also: Did Russia lose Cuba to the Americans?
Retired KGB Lieutenant General Nikolai Leonov in Moscow also voiced Cuba’s considerable military interest in Russian eyes during a presentation of his new book Raul Castro.
Recall that after Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu’s visit to the island in February this year, Russian media was awash with speculation about the possible reactivation of the Lourdes signals intelligence facility, which for many years had electronically eavesdropped on America.
Hence, in the minds of many Russian politicians and experts, Cuba is still viewed as an unsinkable aircraft carrier under the nose of the United States, and a springboard in the event of confrontation between Moscow and Washington.
Such hopelessly outdated political philosophizing does not reflect the current realities. President Barack Obama has made it abundantly clear that he wants to see Guantanamo Bay closed as soon as possible, and the U.S. Navy has long stated that the base itself is of no strategic interest to the United States.
Cuba’s mooted use as a refueling point for Russian strategic aviation and nuclear submarines is also utterly groundless.
Raul Castro’s government does not intend to change the political order in the country. It is striving to maintain friendly relations with Russia, yet is also very keen to be rid of the U.S. economic embargo (improperly described in Russian media as a “blockade”), establish direct contacts with U.S. companies, and lift the travel restrictions on U.S. tourists to Cuba.
From this angle, greater military cooperation with Russia would not help, only hinder, the island’s economic recovery.
There have been assessments by objective and politically unaffiliated media both in Russia and the United States on the restoration of diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba.
One such source, U.S. business magazine Cuba Standard, predicts economic growth in Cuba this year of 3.4 to 3.7 percent.
The main reason is the tourist boom. By mid-July the island had been visited by 2 million tourists, and the figure is set to rise to 3 million by the end of the year.
At the same time, Miami-based Cuban economist Pavel Vidal notes that GDP growth is making the Cuban government more willing to refinance its foreign debt, leading to more flexible credit conditions, particularly in Western Europe, and a more liberal policy on imports.
Cuba Standard highlights another important process taking place in the Cuban economy: its decreasing dependence on Venezuelan aid. In recent years many experts have suggested that the curtailment of free oil supplies from Venezuela to Cuba (up to 100,000 barrels per day) would cause economic collapse on the island. However, this has not happened.
According to the magazine, trade with default-threatened Venezuela this year fell by 5 percent, but had no effect on GDP growth. “As Cuba opens up to the world, it is set to become less ‘pegged’ to Venezuela without the threat of economic collapse hanging over Havana,” says the article in Cuba Standard.
“However, much depends on the depth of the economic crisis in Venezuela and the ability of the Cuban authorities to take advantage of the new opportunities in the world market.”
The rapprochement between the United States and Cuba, two bitter enemies that for 54 years have teetered on the brink of open military confrontation, is certainly a positive development whatever the skeptics say. International diplomacy as a universal tool for conflict resolution should not be written off just yet.
“Global politics in recent years shows that mankind has basically forgotten how to negotiate,” writes independent Russian journalist Semyon Novoprudsky. “Diplomacy seemed to be nothing more than an empty, costly talkfest — propaganda posing as dialogue. But in the case of Iran and Greece, we see that, although not universal, mechanisms for agreement do exist.”
The same applies to the opening of the U.S. Embassy in Havana (the August 14 ceremony will be attended by U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry) and the already-hoisted Cuban flag over the country’s diplomatic mission in Washington.
Novoprudsky is right to assert that the war in Ukraine and other major conflicts around the world can be brought to an end, not simply frozen, as now, by non-military means.
As the United States in the case of Cuba and Iran, and the European Union in the case of Greece, Russia must be mature enough to swallow the pill that can cure it of its foreign policy ills.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.