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Timofey Bordachev

Doctor of Science, Programme Director of the Valdai Discussion Club; Academic supervisor of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, HSE University, RIAC Member

Relations between Russia and countries such as Cuba cannot be built according to the general patterns of “nothing personal, just business” although we generally take such an approach with great difficulty. In this case, of course, we will observe that Havana’s choice not to unwillingness to interfere in Moscow’s internal affairs or force us to act to our detriment is combined with an understanding of the commonality of strategic interests that have been preserved despite the changes in the international arena. In any case, the secret to the survival of the Cuban state in its current form lies in understanding the catastrophic nature of the alternative in the form of a virtual takeover by the United States. Since the new Russian foreign policy, first of all, is based on the interests of our partners, and not selfishness, promoting the independence of the island remains the most rational choice for Moscow.

Russia has no shortage of states that would seek to establish or maintain friendly relations and business relationships despite the military-political crisis in relations between Moscow and the collective West. This is one of the most convincing proofs that, within the framework of the restructuring of the international order, of which the armed conflict in Eastern Europe is only a part, Russia is a member of a broad informal coalition of powers looking to the future, and not striving to preserve the old order. The main reason for the ability to be attractive in such difficult conditions is the pragmatism of Russian politics itself, for which the division of the world along ideological grounds conjures unpleasant memories of the Soviet era.
Relations between Russia and countries such as Cuba cannot be built according to the general patterns of “nothing personal, just business” although we generally take such an approach with great difficulty. In this case, of course, we will observe that Havana’s choice not to unwillingness to interfere in Moscow’s internal affairs or force us to act to our detriment is combined with an understanding of the commonality of strategic interests that have been preserved despite the changes in the international arena. In any case, the secret to the survival of the Cuban state in its current form lies in understanding the catastrophic nature of the alternative in the form of a virtual takeover by the United States. Since the new Russian foreign policy, first of all, is based on the interests of our partners, and not selfishness, promoting the independence of the island remains the most rational choice for Moscow.

Russia has no shortage of states that would seek to establish or maintain friendly relations and business relationships despite the military-political crisis in relations between Moscow and the collective West. This is one of the most convincing proofs that, within the framework of the restructuring of the international order, of which the armed conflict in Eastern Europe is only a part, Russia is a member of a broad informal coalition of powers looking to the future, and not striving to preserve the old order. The main reason for the ability to be attractive in such difficult conditions is the pragmatism of Russian politics itself, for which the division of the world along ideological grounds conjures unpleasant memories of the Soviet era.

Modern Russia is attractive not because it represents a truly powerful alternative to the monopoly of the West. China is much more powerful economically. Russia simply does not try to get others to serve its interests in matters of a material nature or when it comes to values ​​or internal ideas about justice. It is not difficult to be a friend of Russia now - for this you just need not to initiate hostile activity. However, among the countries that are friendly to Russia there are those with which fraternal relations have a longer history, often fanned by common romantic memories. Among those, in the first place, of course, is Cuba, whose president Miguel Diaz-Canel has just visited Moscow.

From a historical point of view, Russia and Cuba are really "comrades-in-arms" who are connected by a military and political experience which many consider the height of the Cold War - the Cuban Missile crisis, which so often pops up in journalists’ discussions about the current situation in the world. In this regard, only the relations between Russia and North Korea or Vietnam are comparable in terms of the strength of the common historical experience, but the Cuban case is truly exceptional. For all the seriousness of the involvement of the USSR in the Korean or Vietnamese conflicts, it was precisely the consolidation of Moscow in Cuba that became an existential challenge for their common enemy, the United States. Moreover, the support of China has traditionally been no less important for North Korea, and Vietnam never owed its survival to Moscow; it achieved its victory over the Americans by itself.

After the USSR was defeated in the competition of socio-economic systems and was forced to unilaterally end the Cold War, several small and medium-sized states close to it were left to fend for themselves. Each of them looked for and found independent ways to survive in a world where, for more than for two decades, only the United States created and violated the rules. At the same time, the political regimes that emerged during the Cold War did not collapse anywhere except in the countries of Eastern Europe - in extreme cases, they went through mild internal transformations, as happened in Angola, Mongolia or Cambodia.

The leading "fighters" of the socialist camp - the DPRK, Cuba and Vietnam, were generally able to maintain their political systems almost completely intact. Cuba, unlike North Korea, and like Vietnam, has chosen the path of gradual internal economic restructuring and liberalisation in terms of civil rights and freedoms. However, socialist Vietnam could take advantage of its geopolitical position - the growth of Chinese power pushed the smaller countries of Southeast Asia to forget about past grievances and integrate this country into ASEAN.

Cuba's geopolitical position is much more complicated. Its proximity to the US mainland and remoteness from other great powers leaves no room for any serious reconciliation with the Americans. Objective economic data and other development indicators show that the neighbourhood with the United States is a guarantee of chronic internal instability and no chance for prosperity. The only exception here is Canada, inhabited by white Anglo-Saxons, but even in this case, doubts may arise if you look at the modern Canadian government and its prime minister.

At the same time, Cuba's remoteness from Russia or China does not create even a hypothetical possibility that the United States would help its development in order to create a foothold against Moscow or Beijing. In other words, only one place can be assigned to Cuba in the palette of American foreign policy interests - a return to the situation before the 1959 revolution. It is no coincidence that the Cuban issue is one of the subjects which divides the United States and the European Union. The EU countries are trying to somehow develop economic cooperation with Havana, while Washington does not like any scenario there that could lead to an improvement of the internal situation.

Thus, Cuba's unique geopolitical position is such that the alternative to a political system that supports independence and, moreover, a tough standoff with the US, is a truly nightmarish scenario. It is so uncomfortable that, compared with Cuba, even the northern regions of Mexico bordering America would seem like a paradise. But this is precisely what became the basis for the survival of Cuban sovereignty and its ability to resolve basic problems, even after the loss of support from the USSR or Russia. Now Russia is returning to the world stage and it has something to offer Cuba.

However, it would be wrong to expect from these countries the desire to recreate the atmosphere of the Cold War in full. Mutual interest is objective, and in the case of Cuba it is supported by the main task for each state: to survive in an extremely hostile environment. But an equally important role is played by the understanding that the modern world is much more flexible and opens up opportunities beyond gruelling military-political confrontation. Moreover, modern Cuban society, as far as one can judge, is not so dogmatic in terms of the personal freedoms of citizens, although it values ​​its independence. Russia is also quite liberal with regard to individual human rights, but it keeps a close eye on factors that could lead to the erosion of statehood.

Therefore, in reality, Russia and Cuba have many common values ​​when it comes to their picture of the world and their place in the current balance of power. These common values, all the more, rest on a solid historical basis, which we, with all pragmatism, should not ignore. The Cuban-Russian partnership is reinforced by the position of Havana during the voting of the UN General Assembly on issues related to the Ukrainian problem. But this is also not an expression of loyal feelings towards Moscow. The anti-Americanism of Cuban foreign policy is a product of its own assessment of its geopolitical position and the associated features of participation in world affairs. Trying to use Cuba for tactical purposes is not only immoral (Moscow is well aware of this), but also pointless. But where our approaches coincide, and this is, in fact, the main issue of modern world politics, one can be calm about the fate of bilateral relations.


Source: Valdai. Discussion club

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