Vladimir Putin meets Cuban president in Moscow
Russia is seizing the opportunity to forge a renewed alliance with Cuba amidst the island nation’s deepening economic crisis.
The fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine dealt a devastating blow to Cuba, disrupting Russian tourism and triggering soaring prices for vital commodities such as energy and food.
However, Russia is now strategically leveraging Cuba’s woes to reignite a once-strong global friendship.
Despite facing unprecedented Western sanctions aimed at crippling the country’s economy, Putin has exploited Russia’s vast natural resources to expand its influence across the globe.
Notably, Russia has strengthened ties with major players like India, which has been procuring discounted Russian oil in record-breaking quantities, and China, which has significantly increased its consumption of Russian energy.
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Even Turkey, a NATO ally, has bolstered its trade relationship with Moscow while simultaneously supplying weapons to Ukraine.
While Russia’s historical ties with Cuba date back to the Soviet era, its influence on the island had waned in recent years. However, the current economic slump in Cuba, exacerbated by the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, the COVID-19 pandemic, and crises in Venezuela, has presented Russia with a golden opportunity to reclaim its position of influence.
Russia has wasted no time in filling the void left by other nations. The country has ramped up oil exports to Cuba at highly advantageous rates and reinstated direct flights between the two nations. Furthermore, Russia has brokered lucrative deals in various sectors, signalling a strong commitment to rebuilding economic ties.
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There are even whispers of a potential visit to the island by President Putin himself, a move that would solidify the burgeoning economic lifeline shared between Russia and Cuba.
Cuba, facing an increasingly dire economic situation, has eagerly embraced any assistance offered. “Whoever comes to Cuba’s rescue is welcome. The country is literally falling apart,” stressed Ricardo Torres Perez, a Cuban economist and research fellow at the American University in Washington, D.C.
Russia’s engagement with Cuba goes beyond pure economic interests—it seeks to forge alliances.
“Russia is not only looking for markets. It is looking for allies. It needs allies,” Perez told The Messenger. As Cuba’s economic need aligns with Russia’s strategic objectives, the partnership between the two nations holds significant potential.
The impact of Russia’s renewed engagement with Cuba is already evident. Recent trade figures indicate a dramatic surge in bilateral trade between the two nations, reaching a staggering $138 million in the first four months of this year—nine times the amount recorded during the same period last year.
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The recent resumption of flights between Russia and Cuba marked an initial symbolic step towards rebuilding the relationship. However, the crucial oil supply agreement, with Russia providing Cuba approximately 30,000 barrels per day at discounted prices, stands as the true game-changer.
For Cuba, which has sought alternative oil sources like Mexico, this deal brings much-needed relief to its energy woes. Additionally, Russia’s commitment extends to supplying wheat, establishing a market for Russian food and home products in Cuba, and making direct investments in the Cuban tourism industry.
The future holds even more promise for Russia-Cuba collaboration. Ongoing negotiations include plans to boost Cuban rum exports through a joint venture for production and sales—a significant opportunity to revitalise the rum industry, which was once a cornerstone of Cuba’s economic partnership with the United States.
In a rare international outing, 150 Russian business leaders recently converged on Havana for a trade conference, discussing potential collaborations in the rum business and other sectors.
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