Latin America emerges as a Russian theater of operations

It has only recently become clear to analysts in the United States that Russia is playing a big role in Latin America to destabilize Washington’s alliance system and threaten U.S. interests. Despite the costs involved in sustaining Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Russia’s three main “proxies” in Latin America, President Vladimir Putin—like his Soviet predecessors—seems willing to bear those expenditures. The benefits to Moscow come in other forms. For instance, while Moscow has stepped away from pressing Caracas to pay its debts, Russian state-owned oil giant Rosneft has been granted ever greater access to Venezuela’s oil and natural gas sector. In exchange for a debt write-off Venezuelan state-run oil firm Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) reportedly could be handed over entirely to Rosneft (TASS, October 16). In addition, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has characterized Venezuela—as well as Cuba and Latin America more generally—as poster children of sorts for his regular fulminations against Washington’s supposed efforts to destabilize the global order (Mid.ru, October 3). Moreover, there is ample evidence of Moscow at least exploring the idea, if not yet openly intending, to establish a naval and/or air base in Venezuela, on the island of La Orchila. In late 2018, Venezuela announced that Russia is obtaining a long-term base on the island of La Orchila that had been offered to Moscow a decade earlier by Hugo Chavez. The island is some 160 miles from Caracas and is home to a Venezuelan airfield and navy base (TASS, December 12, 2018; Sldinfo.com, December 26, 2018).

In this context, statements last March by Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu that the Russian Armed Forces are now capable of remote combat missions around the world take on a more sinister potential (Duma.gov.ru, March 12). And subsequent developments only underscore this point.

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