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How a Cold War foe pushed Cuba to Obama’s radar

Obama has taken on a strong path towards normalization of relations with Cuba

Maria Dubovikova

Published: Updated:

How can one go down in history showered in glory, while having an illogical and irrelevant foreign policy? Just ask Barack Obama! After the successful demonization of Russia, pushing it to the same corner as ISIS and Ebola, Washington has signed with Russia's help the Iranian nuclear deal. Iran was once a core element of the world’s “Axis of Evil,” according to Washington's philosophy during George Bush’s administration. And now Washington and Havana restore diplomatic ties – a move akin to a controlled shot in the head to all those who have criticized Obama. And intriguingly, the Russian factor has played a role in this, however indirect that role may be. Obama has cozied up to one Cold War enemy, Cuba, while tightening a noose around another, Russia.

Two days ago, during a visit by Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez to Washington, a flag-raising ceremony was held at the Cuban embassy marking the end of more than 50 years in severed diplomatic ties. On a symbolic note, the year diplomatic ties froze was the year of Barack Obama’s birth. But another remarkable thing about the Rodriguez’s visit to Washington was that it was the first from a Cuban foreign minister since September 1958, when Eisenhower was in the Oval Office.

Obama has cozied up to one Cold War enemy, Cuba, while tightening a noose around another, Russia.

Maria Dubovikova


Cuba now expects from the U.S. the “removal of an economic, commercial and financial blockade, the return of occupied territory in Guantanamo, and respect for the sovereignty of Cuba."

Skepticism remains from some sides, as there are still a lot of differences that still separate both countries. Many believe it is likely that the blockade will continue, that Guantanamo will remain a U.S. torture base, and that there is little chance that Cuban sovereignty will be respected.

Russia's indirect role

But one important factor that handed Obama the historical moment is a country that is more than 10,000 kilometers away from the island – Russia. This comes at a moment when relations between the U.S. and Russia have started to resemble ties during the Cold War. In July 2014, a year ago, Vladimir Putin visited Cuba during his Latin America tour. He declared 90 percent of Cuba’s unpaid Soviet-era debts forgotten (totaling $32 billion) and he signed a deal to reopen the Soviet-era spy base in Loudes, that had been previously closed in 2001. Through the Soviet-era “fidèl” (faithful) ally Russia sought to flex its muscles in the face of Cuba, it recalled back to life a past that seemed to have already been shelved. The presidential visit was followed by several visits from Russian delegations and several deals were reached. Military cooperation was among of the key dimensions of bilateral cooperation between the two countries. In Russia, these military steps are perceived as a direct response to U.S. policies and Russia’s will to show that it has an answer to U.S. threats.

Obama has taken on a strong path towards normalization of relations with Cuba. Washington will do as much as possible in order to return Cuba to its orbit and influence.

The blockade will be lifted soon. It’s in the interest of the both sides and will bring about the opening up of borders and trade. There is no use in expecting Washington’s direct involvement in the internal affairs of Havana, even if the internal issues and violations of human rights are already becoming stumbling points in the negotiation process. Cuban human rights activists at home and abroad will become important political instruments to undermine the fading Castro regime.

The normalization of the ties with the U.S. will soon put an end to Cuba’s isolated image, which we have gotten used to, and to a political regime that has existed for so many years. A thaw ties is clearly good for the people of Cuba, in terms of trade and tourism, but for Obama it will mean his name engrained in their history books. But it’s also thanks to Russia’s foreign policy and its national interests that have irked the U.S. and pushed Cuba to the American radar and shaped Obama’s post-Cold War legacy.


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Maria Dubovikova is a President of IMESClub and CEO of MEPFoundation. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations [University] of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia), now she is a PhD Candidate there. Her research fields are in Russian foreign policy in the Middle East, Euro-Arab dialogue, policy in France and the U.S. towards the Mediterranean, France-Russia bilateral relations, humanitarian cooperation and open diplomacy. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

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