Cuba, caught in Russia-U.S. Cold War love triangle

If the Cuban regime withstands the new U.S. test of love, there will be a truly interesting geopolitical game over Cuba

Maria Dubovikova
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December’s U.S. policy change towards Cuba hit the headlines and became a true sensation worldwide.

The international community welcomed this step by the U.S. as recognition of the failure of the U.S. embargo policy towards Cuba that had stayed unchanged for more than five decades. This unexpected move by the U.S. and the proclaimed bridge-mending was cemented with a prisoner exchange.


If we set aside the seeming positivity and sincerity of the U.S. step, the feeling that we are about to turn this page in U.S.-Cuba relations and put an end to this story, and we instead study the speeches of the two leaders in depth, some rather arresting moments could be revealed.

There is no longer a strong link between Cuba and Russia, at least not as strong as it was during the Soviet epoch

Maria Dubovikova

First of all, Obama did not address Cuba’s political leaders. His December 17 speech was not the speech of a leader addressing the leader of another country. Obama appealed to the Cubans, appealed to their apparent fatigue. He appealed to the feelings of Cubans living in exile in the U.S., away from their homeland and families. He talked about democracy, civil rights – the values that have been sustainably promoted by the U.S. wherever it could through the means of colored revolutions, support of opposition forces and sometimes interventions. These nice notions pronounced by the U.S. leader should put Cuba on guard. The turbulence of unexpected love from the U.S. could turn the page of the current history of Cuba, but could end the governance of the Castro brothers and the socialist order of the country. Furthermore, the declaration on the failure of the U.S. embargo still doesn’t mean its revocation and it is unclear when it will be revoked.

Castro was talking in the other terms. He addressed the nation in terms of old symbols common to each Cuban – Cuban revolution, heroism of the Cuban people, Fidel Castro and even the Cuban independence wars. The complete discord on such issues as human rights and democracy was acknowledged. This reveals a strong misbalance in approaches and this promises nothing good to the Cuban regime.

Cuba was the symbol of the Cold War of this century. It was the crisis that put world on the brink of complete extermination. Now we are bearing witness to a new Cold War, with much the same players, however with no concrete opposing ideology that once formed the fundamental core of the clash. The small island of Cuba is once again in the international community’s spotlight.

Russia in the mix

For its part, Russia has also made a surprise entrance into the fray.

In July 2014, against the background of Obama’s declarations on Russia’s isolation, Vladimir Putin visited Cuba during his Latin America tour. It was as though Putin was showing his harsh opposition to Obama. On the trip, Putin forgave 90 percent (a total of $32 billion) of Cuba’s debts which have remained unpaid since the Soviet-era. What is more, several important contracts in the oil industry, energy and security cooperation were signed. There were rumors, subsequently rejected by Russian political officials, over the restoration of the Lourdes soviet military base as a spy facility on the doorsteps of the U.S.. Irrelevance of the base’s restoration is evident as nowadays the development of high-tech devices render long-distances immaterial. Russia understands that its military activities in Cuba can redouble already strained relations. However, it should be admitted that this year several Russian military ships entered Cuban ports and that annoyed Washington.

It is remarkable that these days, shortly after Obama’s speech, the most hawkish Russian politician, vice-PM Dmitry Rogozin was in Cuba for talks with Cuban leaders. The key intention was to discuss the steps to bolster the reducing trade between the two countries, to intensify cooperation and to implement the decisions achieved during Putin’s visit to Cuba this summer. However, I’m sure Rogozin got the lay of the land and was trying to gauge if is there was any change in the Cuban leader’s position regarding cooperation with Russia and to alert Russia’s friends that the U.S. could very well cheat them, as Moscow is skeptical over all moves of Washington these days.

Can Cuba play the game?

There is no longer a strong link between Cuba and Russia, at least not as strong as it was during the Soviet epoch. The only thing that matters is profitable cooperation. In light of this, is it easier for Ccuba to cooperate with a country 92 miles from the Cuban shore, or with a country practically 6000 miles from it? Granted, only one of those countries will respect the Cuban communist system and refrain from intervening in its affairs while the other may do the exact opposite. A true dilemma, isn’t it?

For one of those two countries Cuban foreign policy poses a danger to its national interests while for the other intense cooperation with Cuba means the possibility of soft containment of its rival.

There is an old joke: “Why there has not been a revolution in Washington? Because there is no American Embassy there!”

If the Cuban regime withstands the new U.S. test of love, there will be a truly interesting geopolitical game over Cuba and it will gain profit from all the sides. If it falls victim, the communist past and symbols of the Cuban revolution will fade into history and Russia’s interests will be slightly damaged (and the U.S. would be able to feel freer in its political maneuvers and geopolitical games, not expecting any surprise on its doorstep.


Maria Dubovikova is a co-founder of IMESClub (International Middle Eastern Studies Club), IMESClub Executive Director and member of the Club Council, author of several scientific articles and participant of several high level international conferences. She is a permanent member of the Think-tank under the American University in Moscow. Alumni of MGIMO (Moscow State Institute of International Relations (University) of Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Russia) (honors diploma), she had been working for three months as a trainee at the French Institute of International Relations (IFRI) in Paris. Now she is a PhD Candidate at MGIMO (Department of International Relations and Foreign Policy of Russia). Her research field is Russian foreign policy, especially in the Middle East, the policy of France and the US towards the Mediterranean, theory of international relations, humanitarian interventions and etc. Fluently speaks and writes in French and English. She can be followed on Twitter: @politblogme

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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