Ukraine, Russia, Cuba and the war


A column of smoke from the Chuguyev military airport near Kharkiv, Ukraine. Photo: Aris Messinis / AFP.

By Eloy Viera Cañive (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – The war has begun. Russia invaded Ukraine in the early hours of February 24, 2022. Thus, a dispute announced weeks ago became reality, having been only a war of stories until recently – beyond the conflict that Ukrainians have experienced over the past eight years.

Despite the air raids and the tanks that are beginning to advance, the Russian-Ukrainian conflict is also a war between two visions of the world and different ways of telling it. Announcing the start of hostile actions, Vladimir Putin never said that a war had started – confirmed by the Cuban media -, but always spoke of a “special military operation”, which is not aimed at occupying Ukraine, but to demilitarize and “denazify” that country, ironically.

Demilitarize a country that has the right to have an army and “denazify” a country where 43,000 people identify as Jews and 200,000 are eligible for Israeli citizenship under the Law of Return. “Denazifying” a country where the elected president is Jewish and members of his family were victims of the Holocaust.

Ukraine has been at war since 2014. A war that has spread despite the Minsk agreements in 2014 and 2015. The Ukrainian government’s conflict with pro-Russian separatist forces in the Donbass has resulted in the deaths of 14,000 citizens so far. to February 24. Russia’s role has been essential since the beginning of this conflict. The Donetsk and Luhansk movements began after Euromaidan, a popular movement that forced Ukrainian President Viktor Fedorovych Yanukovych to resign and flee the country. However, the conflict really started after the popular referendum and the annexation of the Crimean peninsula by Russia in 2014.

Before that, Putin had used the so-called “frozen conflicts” inherited or created after the collapse of the USSR, to intervene or support separatist forces in countries like Moldova or Georgia.

The Cuban government and the Putin doctrine

You cannot criticize US imperialism and justify Russian imperialism. You cannot be an enemy of the Monroe Doctrine and adopt the Putin Doctrine.

Three days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine (Monday, February 21, 2022), Vladimir Putin explained some of his deeply rooted beliefs in Russian nationalism dating back to the Russian Empire. Putin made it very clear that Russia could be understood as all the lands where people of Russian origin culture live. He said that Ukraine – one of those regions – is a state that should not have the right to exist outside of Russia.

Putin also recognized the independence of Lugansk and Donetsk and said that “modern Ukraine was created entirely by Russia, more precisely Bolshevik and communist Russia”. In the meantime, he confirmed that Ukraine’s independence was the result of mistakes made by the Soviet Communist Party elite (especially Lenin), who were also responsible for the collapse of the USSR. Putin has long called this fact “the greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century”.

Putin justified the Russian invasion of Ukraine by expanding the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) into Eastern Europe, which is true. Many countries that were under the influence of the USSR in the past, such as Poland or the Baltic States, joined the Atlantic Alliance over the years. But those who say that NATO does not have the right to expand towards the Russian border – as Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez did – forget that the accession of these states (formerly members of the Warsaw Pact) to NATO is the result of their own sovereign decisions. Decisions that were justified at the time as the best defense mechanism to protect against the still dormant – and now confirmed – expansionist aspirations of Russia.

What can protect small states like Estonia or Latvia, located on the Russian border and whose population is 40% Slavic in origin, after Putin’s speech on February 21, 2022? The mere fact of belonging to NATO and the collective duty of all its members to provide military assistance in the event of an attack prevents Putin from wanting to extend Russian influence in these places where there are large minorities, he regards as his compatriots.

Putin’s geopolitical vision is imperialist in the purest tsarist style. It is as imperialist as many American administrations have been at different historical periods.

The stance of the Cuban government and its cronies on the Russian invasion of Ukraine is proof that anti-imperialism is not one of their guiding principles – despite the abundance of propaganda saying the exact opposite . The Cuban government and all those who defend Putin do not understand what principles are, they only understand real Machiavellian-style pragmatism. As the master philosopher of Florence once said: politics has no relation to morality.

The Cuban government’s close ties to Russia are irrefutable. The relationship the Diaz-Canel government has with Putin is a watered down, post-modern version of what Fidel Castro once had with the Soviet Union. A relationship where the principles they boasted of of international solidarity and altruism carry no weight, rather it is the mutual benefit of knowing they have a common enemy. In Putin’s case, a worldview could be summed up by what Aleksandr Dugin called “nationalist populism.”

The new relationship between the Cuban and Russian governments was built by different sectors. The military sector has been one of the most important. Russian Defense Minister Sergey Shoygu visited Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela in 2015 and addressed issues related to military-technical exchanges between Russia and the three Latin American countries. Additionally, Miguel Diaz-Canel visited Russia in November 2018 and met with Putin. After his visit, Russia immediately announced that it would grant Cuba a credit of 38 million euros to purchase Russian planes, helicopters and military equipment. In 2019, Cuban Vice President Ricardo Cabrisas – Cuba’s top foreign debt negotiator – met with Shoygu in Moscow, as part of these agreements, to discuss “bilateral cooperation efforts in the pursuit of stability and security in the Caribbean”.

Senior Russian officials have made several visits to Cuba in recent years. Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yury Borisov has visited Cuba at least three times since 2018. The last trip was in February 2022, just hours before Russia invaded Ukraine. During this trip, Borisov toured Latin America, including two other countries that played a crucial role in strengthening his position on the continent: Venezuela and Nicaragua. It is no coincidence that Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela are today the only Latin American countries to have expressed their unconditional support for Putin and his invasion.

After Deputy Prime Minister Borisov’s visit to Cuba (February 18, 2022), Cuban diplomat Rodriguez announced on his Twitter account his firm rejection of what he considered “the propaganda and media hysteria unleashed by the American government against Russia”. Also a member of the Politburo of the Cuban Communist Party, Rodriguez “strongly opposed the expansion of NATO towards the Russian border”.

After this statement by Bruno Rodriguez – which was also no coincidence – a counterpart was established. On February 22, 2021, the Russian State Duma – or the lower house of the Federal Assembly of Russia – ratified the agreements signed with Cuba in August 2021, after Putin’s government proposed them, which aimed to renegotiate a part of the debt between the two states. These agreements ratified by the State Duma extend the terms of payment until 2027, for the credits granted by Russia to Cuba between 2006-2019.

Russia granted $2.3 billion to Cuba during this period, and Cuba stopped repayments in early 2020. The grounds for the settlement adopted by the Russian State Duma establish that Cuba’s non-payment between 2020 and 2021 must be carried out between 2022 and 2027; this new repayment plan will involve an additional payment of 11 million USD for Cuba in interest.

On the day the State Duma approved the debt restructuring agreement, Cuba responded with an official statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX). Expressing gratitude to Putin and the close ties between the two governments, the statement can be broken down into three key points:

– The United States and NATO are responsible for the situation in Ukraine, having manipulated the international community on the dangers of an “imminent mass invasion” by Russia.

– Cuba has always warned of the danger of this kind of policy.

– Russia has the right to defend itself.

Two days after this declaration (February 24), the “imminent massive invasion” occurred, which – according to the MINREX declaration – the United States and NATO used to manipulate the world. The Russian army advanced without the Ukrainians firing a single shot.

As the invasion of Ukraine began, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel reaffirmed his pleasure in hosting and meeting with Vyacheslav Volodin, Chairman of the State Duma of the Russian Federation, who endorsed the renegotiation of Cuba’s debt with Russia. Volodin is an official with close ties to Putin’s United Russia party and has even gone so far as to say that there is no Russia without Putin. His visit in the midst of a situation like the one unfolding in Eastern Europe is no coincidence, and certainly not disinterested.

Moreover, on the day that Ukraine and the invasion of that country made international headlines, Grandmother, the main newspaper of the Cuban Communist Party, came out hot in the press emphasizing the friendship between Cuba and Russia and the desire for peace of the two governments.

Further proof that the war in Ukraine is also a war of stories and that the Cuban government does not believe in ethics or morals, such as anti-imperialism.

Learn more about Cuba here on Havana Times.

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