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Rethinking Post-Cold War Russian-Latin American Relations: Essential Reading for Approaching Current Dynamics

October 11, 2022

The recent publication “Rethinking Post-Cold War Russian-Latin American Relations” (2022; Routledge) offers, through several chapters, different topics and approaches to Russia’s relations with Latin America as a region and bilaterally (in the cases of Argentina, Brazil, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, and Venezuela). Vladimir Rouvinski and Victor Jeifets are the editors of this book and collection.

This book is essential reading for those interested in contemporary relations between Russia and Latin America. The publication allows readers to identify the fundamental driving forces behind Russia’s renewed commitment to the region and its strategies and experiences. This work is a relevant contribution to the readership of disciplines such as international relations, history, migration studies, economy, political science, and also for decision-makers. It does this by offering various types of insights into Russia in Latin America.


Source: RIA News

This volume offers the first interdisciplinary study of Russian–Latin American relations after the end of the Cold War. Across 16 chapters, leading experts from Russia, Europe, the United States, and Latin America collectively re-examine the Soviet legacy to reveal the conditions in which Russia operates today and identify the key trends of contemporary Russian relations with this part of the world. The book latter provides a detailed case study analysis of Russia’s bilateral relations with Venezuela, Cuba, Mexico, Brazil, Argentina, and Colombia, identifying the most critical dimensions of Russian engagement in those countries.

The first chapter of this volume, “Russia in Latin America: A Framework of Analysis”, provides an analytical framework by Vladimir Rouvinski which serves as a guideline to the subsequent discussions and offers a review of the Soviet legacy in Latin America. This framework of Analysis emphasizes symbolic reciprocity as one of the continuous driving forces of Russia’s engagement with this part of the world. As Rouvinski argues, although it is possible to recognize several other priorities of Moscow in the region, those would change over time. Therefore, this chapter outlines the significant developments in history and modern-day Russian ties with Latin America.

In Chapter 2, “Soviet–Latin American Studies: The Academy as Politics”, and in Chapter 3, “Contemporary Latin American Studies in Russia: Old and New Challenges”, Victor Jeifets and Dmitry Rozental characterize the main phases of the evolution of Russian studies of the region. The authors explained why and how Latin American studies in Russia have changed in the post-Soviet period and to what extent these changes were due to the new requirements put forward by the governmental institutions and people who take decisions over Russian policy in the (far) Western Hemisphere.

In Chapter 4, “The Revolutionary Diplomacy in Latin America: The USSR and the Comintern, 1919–1941”, Victor Jeifets and Lazar Jeifets debates the thesis about the existence of important contradictions between the Soviet diplomacy and the Comintern activities (for years sustained by the Western historiography), which they consider is erroneous. The authors offered an alternative explanation of the peculiar character of the relations between Soviet diplomacy and Comintern in situ to show the dualism of the Soviet foreign service of the time, when the same persons were required to act simultaneously as diplomats and Comintern emissaries.

This new perspective offered in this chapter opens the doors for a better understanding of the nature of early Soviet Russia’s relations with some of the Latin American nations, especially if we take into account their relevance amid the genesis of contemporary left movements in the regions.

From this perspective, the case of Mexico is discussed by Humberto Morales Moreno in Chapter 5, “Russia and Mexico: Strong State and Revolution”, which argues that despite important similarities between the Mexican and Russian revolutions, there were many fundamental differences, which did not allow for a sustainable rapprochement between the revolutionary Mexico and Soviet Russia in the first half of the 20th century.

In Chapter 6, “Russia and Colombia: The Law against the Communist Threat in Latin America (1926–1982)”, Mario Alberto Cajas-Sarria continues reviewing the ideological legacy of Russia’s relations with Latin America by emphasizing perceptions of the Soviet (Communist) threat by Latin American governments and choosing Colombia as a case study.

In Chapter 7, “Russian Migration in Latin America”, written by Marina Moseykina, provides the readers with an opportunity to trace this continuity by examining the flows of Russian migrants to this part of the Western Hemisphere in different moments of world history. The author shows how this migration contributed to the construction of the image of Russia among Latin Americans and provides a complete panorama of the Russian migration to Latin America in the 20th century and well into the beginning of the 21st century. The readers of this chapter will also find data on the geographical distribution, migrants’ ethnic origins, and the Russian emigrational pattern in this part of the world. Finally, yet importantly, Moseykina traces the roles of the migrants in various social, political, military, and cultural scenarios of Latin America in the 20th century and at the beginning of the 21st century.

In Chapter 8, “Russia and Latin America: Strategic Partnerships”, Alexandra Sitenko analyzed the implications of the “Strategic Partnership" concept for Russia – Latin America relations. Sitenko realizes an analysis of strategic partnerships to examine three case studies: Russia–Brazil, Russia–Ecuador, and Russia–Nicaragua. Among the general observations that can be made concerning Russian relations with Latin America are the topics related to the dynamics of commerce and trade. Although overall Russian trade volumes with the region are not as impressive as Moscow’s commercial links to the other regions, the arms trade differs.

In Chapter 9, “Russian Arms Trade in Latin America” Victor Jeifets and Lilia Khadorich explain why. According to the authors of this chapter, the main reason behind Russia’s notable advance in this sector of the economy is the fact that the “military-technical cooperation” (MTC) is part of Russia’s foreign policy strategy in Latin America and the Caribbean. The evidence suggests that Russia is using arms sales as one of the ways to enhance its international and regional influence. Of course, Russian successes in such a sensitive area as arms trade cannot pass without notice by the major power of the Western Hemisphere, the United States. Yet, the arms trade by far is not the only issue of concern to Washington.

In Chapter 10, “The United States and Russian Engagement in Latin America”, Evan Ellis explains the major US concerns about Russia’s return to the Western Hemisphere. Ellis starts by describing the US view of the Western Hemisphere as a shared neighborhood, with a shared history, values, and a great degree of interconnectivity. For these reasons, to the United States, it does matter what is happening in Latin America and the Caribbean. In this context, Russia’s presence in the Americas and support for Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua may constitute important challenges to the United States. This chapter offers an opportunity to learn the US perspective on Russia’s commercial and military activities in the region and identifies several factors that favor or are against the growth of the Russian incidence in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Russian Bilateral Relations with the Countries of Latin America and the Caribbean

By establishing the main pillars of Russian post-Cold War engagement with Latin America, it is possible to embark on several case studies that provide vivid and colorful illustrations of Russian bilateral relations with some of the countries in the region.

In Chapter 11, “Russia and Venezuela: Russia’s Gateway to Latin America”, written by Dmitry Rozental and Lazar Jeifets, offers a broad panorama of the evolution of bilateral relations, including historical review, identification of the main areas of cooperation, and the examination of the scenarios resulting from 2019 political crisis. In particular, they demonstrate that Moscow’s rapprochement to Venezuela must be viewed in the context of Russia’s strive to recover its international influence and acquire tools that would allow Vladimir Putin’s government to stand on an equal footing with the other powers in the international arena.

As for the case of Cuba, in Chapter 12, “Cuba and Post-Soviet Russia: Challenges and Opportunities, Lazar Jeifets and Anton Andreev invite readers to follow the evolution of Cuban relations with the USSR and Russia closely. The authors explain that Moscow’s support of the Cuban revolution was not only about sharing common Communist ideology. It was also due to various political and military goals of the Kremlin’s strategy, not necessarily directly linked to the situation in Cuba. Hence, in exchange for Moscow investing heavily into the Cuban economy, the USSR obtained a possibility to resolve several military and strategic tasks by installing its military base just next to the US borders.

After the disintegration of the USSR, the ideology and the army needs gave place to economic pragmatism in the relationship between Havana and Moscow. Modern Russia is very interested in recovering its role in the Cuban economy. But the new Russian approach to Cuba does not intend to recreate the Soviet “satellite state” model. At the same time, as the authors explain, the continuing tensions between the United States and Russia led to the growth of Cuban’s political significance for Russian foreign policy in the Western Hemisphere.

The case of Russian bilateral relations with Mexico is analyzed by Victor Jeifets and Jorge Lopez Arevalo in chapter 13, “Russia and Mexico: Politics and Trade”. The authors begin their contribution by pointing out the fundamental differences between the case of Mexico’s relations with the Soviet Union and contemporary Russian–Mexican ties, which are very far from having the same broad scale of interactions as several decades ago, even though the volume of bilateral trade is growing. Yet, even though Moscow is showing a keen interest in supporting Mexican independent foreign policy and encouraging the government of Lopez Obrador to join Russia’s quest for new multipolar world order, it is challenging to expect a fundamental shift of Mexico stance towards the –US political and economic arrangements with the US at least from short- and midterm perspectives. In other words, while Russia is back in Mexico, the current and future scenarios still lack certainty about the real advance of Moscow in building a new type of relations with the United States most important Southern neighbor.

In Chapter 14, “Post-Cold War Colombo-Russian Relations” Vladimir Rouvinski shows that despite the low profile of these relations, a thorough examination of bilateral dynamics allows the scholar to understand better why Latin America matters to Russia. The results of such an approach let Rouvinski conclude that the case of Russia’s relations with Colombia after the end of the Cold War is the one that evolved from the state of cooperation (Samper) to a nested conflict (Uribe, Santos, and Duque). As a result, conflicting national narratives have emerged. In this context, Russian national role conceptions were considered either supportive (the case of Samper) or debilitating Colombia’s national roles (Uribe, Santos, and Duque).

In Chapter 15, “Russian–Brazilian Relations since 1991: Meat, BRICS, and Vkontakte”, written by Nikolai Dobronravin, also places Russian relations with this South American giant into not only a regional but a complex global context as well. As Dobronravin shows, the two nations’ positions began to converge only after the Soviet collapse and Brazil’s transition to democracy.

In the 1990s, post-Soviet Russia needed new markets for its exports, while both Moscow and Brasilia wanted to advance multilateralism in the international arena. Some years later, BRICS became another brick put into the foundation of bilateral relations and one of the main tools of the Russian modus operandi with Brazil.

For most of the post-Soviet period, Moscow and Brasilia have had similar—although not identical—attitudes toward many essential items of the global agenda. In addition, today, Brazil is the largest Russian trade partner in the Western Hemisphere. By examining the post-2019 scenario, the author emphasizes that, notwithstanding the shift in Brazilian domestic politics, the continuing advance of Russian–Brazilian relationships evidences that the relations have reached the point where they allow both Brazil and Russia to continue cooperation as long as two countries consider them mutually beneficial.

Finally, Chapter 16, “Russia and Argentina: An Enduring Relationship”, written by Alberto Hutschenreuter offers a review of the historical evolution of Russia’s relations with Argentina. The central thesis behind the author’s narrative of this chapter is that Russian relations with Argentina are still far from being able to fully realize their potential, even though they are among the oldest relationships of this type in entire Latin America and the Caribbean. To identify the challenges and opportunities faced by both sides of the relationship, Hutschenreuter points out the most critical “obstacles”, particularly those concerned with distinct “patterns of trade disruption” between the two countries, and some other very pertinent considerations of the bilateral relation.

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