On the eve of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Latin America for the BRICS Summit in Brazil, Russia Direct announces a new Brief examining Russia’s expanding presence in the region.


Photo: Shutterstock / Legion Media

As Russian President Vladimir Putin visits Latin America, Russia Direct’s new Brief, “Russia in America’s Backyard,” looks at the prospects for collaboration between Russia and Latin American countries, as well as the potential for rivalry with China and the U.S. in a region that was once a key battleground of the Cold War.

“The Ukrainian crisis has highlighted Russia’s attempts to diversify Russian foreign policy, as Russia searches for potential new partners in regions far from Europe,” said Ruslan Kostyuk of St. Petersburg State University, author of the report. “Of particular note here is Latin America.”

Kostyuk concludes Latin America could become “a region of new geopolitical rivalry” between the U.S., China and Russia, as each seeks to extend influence or maintain leadership in the region.

“Throughout the 2000’s, this region represented a growing area for the Kremlin in terms of expanding the reach of Moscow’s foreign policy,” Kostyuk says. “Given the growing presence of the U.S. and NATO in Eastern Europe, it’s perhaps no surprise that Russia is similarly looking at ways to expand its presence in America’s backyard.”

Russia can hardly compete with the U.S. and China economically, but it may seek to build up its political presence and military-technical cooperation, Kostyuk suggests, while noting a division among Latin America’s countries in their vote in the UN on the recognition of Crimea as part of Russia.

“The Ukrainian crisis could not fail to increase the interest of Russian foreign policy experts in Latin America, if only because most countries in the region have not condemned the Kremlin’s actions,” he writes.

Kostyuk points out that during the UN vote on the “Crimean resolution” — which called for the results of the Crimean referendum to be ignored, alongside any resulting change in the territorial status of the Autonomous Republic of Crimea — the 11 countries that voted against the resolution include Bolivia, Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

At the same time, the major regional players, such as Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and Ecuador, preferred to publicly abstain during the UN General Assembly vote. This indicates some South America country might support Russia, Kostyuk says.

Kostyuk also points to increasing military cooperation between Russia and Latin America’s countries.

“Russian arms exports to Latin America over the last 12 years were worth $14 billion, about 80 percent of which went to Venezuela,” he writes. “The military factor in Russia’s partnership with Latin America also emerged in April 2014, when the Russian Navy and a number of left-leaning Latin American countries held training drills off the coast of America.”

Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu acknowledged in March 2014 that Russia was negotiating over an expansion of the number of its overseas bases with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua.

Where else might Russia come into competition with the U.S and China? Will Latin America regain its Cold War status as contested ground? How should the U.S. respond to increase of Russia’s influence in the region? How might China’s expanding presence impact the political calculus of both the U.S. and Russia? Subscribe and download the full version of the Brief to find out.

If you are already an RD subscriber, download the Brief "Russia in America’s Backyard" here

Follow Russia Direct this week to read more stories about U.S.-Russia rivalry in Latin America.