Unlike the US who cut all diplomatic ties with Cuba and placed the country under five decades of degenerative sanctions and placed its leadership on the State departments list of foreign terrorists, Russia has maintained diplomatic relations with Cuba since the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Vladimir Putin visited Cuba in 2000 calling for a lifting of the embargo on them. In 2008 Cuba and Russia increased joint cooperation in matters pertaining to economics. Russia was the first nation to provide aid after Cuba was hit by three hurricanes including four planes of food, medical supplies and construction equipment. Later on that same year the Russian President, Dmitry Medvedev, visited Cuba to strengthen economic ties resulting in Russian companies being allowed to drill for offshore oil in Cuban waters. In early 2009, Raul Castro visited Moscow whereby a $20m dollar credit line was granted to Havana and 25000 tons of grain of humanitarian aid.
In mid-2009, Russia began oil exploration in the Gulf of Mexico whereby under the new agreement, Russia gave Cuba a loan of $150m to acquire construction and agricultural equipment. Four years later, Medvedev again visited Cuba where he signed agreements on education, health, hydrometeorology, aeronautics and space technology. In July 2014, Vladimir Putin visited Cuba, where he decided to forgive 90 percent of the island’s $35 billion debt to Moscow and announced deals to invest in Cuba’s offshore oil industry. The remaining $3.2 billion would need to be paid back over the next ten years. Cuba had previously been working to restructure its debt at that time. In 2011, Cuba was able to restructure a $6 billion debt with China and in 2012, Japan forgave $1.4 billion and more recently, Mexico forgave $478 million in debt.
In recent times we have seen an acceleration in relations between Russia and Cuba. It was reported 12 months ago that Cuban paramilitary and Special Forces units were on the ground in Syria. They were transported to the region in Russian planes. Ironically Obama, has now seen Russia, Iran and Cuba, three nations Obama sought to bring in from the cold, strive to preserve the Assad government against the wishes of Washington who seek to remove Assad by regime change. It should have come as no surprise that Cuba would enter the fray in Syria to assist Russia.
In 2015, Ricardo Cabrisas, the vice president of Cuba’s Council of Ministers held a meeting with Deputy Russian Industry and Trade Minister Georgy Kalamanov and Russian First Deputy Minister of Economic Development Aleksey Likhachev during the Havana International Trade Fair, They were looking to move forward on plans for Russia to invest heavily in energy and metallurgy. They consider that these investments would not only improve services to the Cuban people but also increase employment and prosperity for their nation.
Bilateral relations between Russia and Cuba have intensified in the last few months. In June 2016 Cuba signed a €190m loan agreement with the Export Insurance Agency of Russia (Exiar) during the St Petersburg International Economic Forum, which will be used by the Cuban Union Railways (UFC) to finance the modernisation of its locomotive fleet. The loan will be used in part to overhaul the existing fleet of type TGM4 (Cuban class 37) and TGM6 (Cuban class 38) locomotives. This will include the modernisation of the Cienaga Locomotive Shops in Havana and spare parts for modernisation and overhaul of 75 TGM locomotives. In addition, Lyudinovo will deliver 75 new TGM locomotives to UFC including 60 TGM8s, which will be similar to the TGM6s already in service in Cuba, together with 15 TGM4s.
In late September 2016, Cuba and Russia signed a pacific nuclear energy deal in Vienna alongside the International Atomic Energy Agency’s General Conference. Cuban vice Minister of Science, Environment and Technology José Fidel Santana signed the deal with Sergey Kirienjo, director of the Russian state nuclear energy company Rosatom. Santana said that the deal would give both countries a framework to immediately begin developing bilateral projects, especially related to the medical and agricultural uses of nuclear energy. The projects are still in their development phase so the economic and material value could not yet be determined. The deal also includes the creation of Cuban nuclear specialists, applied and fundamental investigations and the management of radioactive waste.
The son of the Cuban Revolution’s leader, Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, took part in the 33th World Conference of the International Association of Science Parks in Moscow where he presented his book “Science for Innovation: the Cuban experience” and explained the role of biotechnology in his country’s economy. “BioCubaFarma is the most successful business group in our country Castro said. “Recently, they signed an agreement to participate in the high technology sector, for further use of drugs to cure various diseases in Cuba, Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) countries,” Castro said. He described a Cuban medicine which will be soon launched in Russia and CIS countries, Heberprot-P, which according to Castro is a “unique product” for the treatment of diabetic foot ulcers.
Castro’s book introduced the history of innovation in Cuba and explained that a program for scientific and technological exchange, especially in the field of public health, has been already set up. Cuba has strong ties with the Russian Ministry of Health with some drugs already in the marketplace, whilst others are in clinical trials. The Skolkovo Foundation and the Cuban pharmaceutical company BioCubaFarma signed an agreement on technological trade at this conference. Castro also met with Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and presented the book to him.
Unsurprisingly China have also started to develop a prominent role in Cuba, who China sees as the window to Latin America. Two years ago, Chinese President Xi Jinping outlined his strategy for Chinese-Cuban relations namely that the two countries should remain partners, initially in economic terms. In September 2016, Chinese Premier Li Keqiang visited Cuba, whereby Beijing and Havana signed nearly 30 agreements, China partially wrote off Cuba’s debt during the visit but approved four new credit lines for Havana. Beijing is also looking for a complete removal of the US embargo of Cuba. Li Keqiang was the first Chinese prime minister to visit Cuba and it is believed that the visit would boost ties between Beijing and Havana just at the time when the United States admitted the failure of its sanctions policy against Cuba. It was also felt that given the Cuban government is implementing structural reforms, Beijing’s experience could assist them. Cuba is considered to have a number of economic advantages for investments, including tourism, oil exploration and ports.
In March, US President Barack Obama visited Cuba. More recently Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also visited the country and met with President Raul Castro. There is no doubt that Beijing wants to know what interests US and Japan wish to have in that region. Whilst the US is conducting humanitarian intervention in Cuba, it continues to impose sanctions and somewhat inexplicably the US Congress approved toughening sanctions against Havana. Clearly until these sanctions are lifted West nations are not going to be able to develop economic ties with Cuba. It would appear that Abe’s visit is an attempt to increase Japan’s role as a political and security power, and to expand Japan’s influence beyond the Asia-Pacific region to places they has not been very active for the past twenty years.
As ever it would seem that Russia and China are merely enhancing existing relations, whilst Japan appear to be an opportunist, albeit out of character, trying to get a foothold in Cuba. The fact the US continues to impose sanctions is incredulous and a seriously retrograde step. Deputy Defence Minister Nikolai Pankov recently said that Russia was looking into re-establishing a Russian base in Cuba and that they were currently engaged in work to do so. This will undoubtedly be with Cuba’s blessing and is probably the nail in the coffin for whatever ideas Washington may have had with regards to Cuba. Given the relationship between Japan and the US, the same might also be said of the former. Perhaps it is time they finally shed their status as a vassal nation of Washington?