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Why warming Russia-Cuba ties can trigger anxiety in United States

Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu with General Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of Cuba's Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces, at Moscow's National Centre for Defence Control of the Russian Federation on Tuesday (Image courtesy: Russian Ministry of Defence)

As the United States goes ahead with NATO expansion to the borders of Russia, the Kremlin is making some sharp moves right at America’s doorstep by displaying renewed energy and vigour in rebuilding relations with Cuba for the first time since the breakup of the Soviet Union.

Washington has already raised concerns over increased Chinese military and intelligence activities in Cuba after recent reports suggested that Beijing is setting up a spy base on the island.

On Tuesday, Russian Defence Minister Sergei Shoigu and General Alvaro Lopez Miera, the head of Cuba’s Ministry of the Revolutionary Armed Forces (MINFAR), held some intense discussions at Moscow’s National Centre for Defence Control of the Russian Federation.

Shoigu told the Cuban military leader that the northern Caribbean nation has been and remains the “most important ally” of Russia in the region. He also emphasised that the composition of a large travelling delegation testifies to the mood of the Cuban side to discuss a wide range of issues in the military and military-technical field.

“General of the Army Sergei Shoigu stressed that in the conditions when the United States has been carrying out an illegal and illegitimate trade and economic blockade of Cuba for many decades, we are ready to help the Island of Freedom, lend a shoulder to our Cuban friends,” said a statement from the Russian Defence Ministry after the meeting.

Interestingly, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Mappero has just returned home from an 11-day trip to Russia, during which he also met Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. During their meeting, Putin acknowledged that relations between Moscow and Havana are expanding despite difficulties.

Last November, Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez undertook an official visit to Moscow and in April this year, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov visited Cuba.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin with President of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez, in Moscow last November (Image courtesy: Kremlin.ru)

Citing Mappero’s visit, Shoigu said that Russian-Cuban relations are on the rise and a “high rate of development of the political dialogue” between both countries has been achieved.

“Cuba, of course, has been and remains the most important ally of Russia in the region. Our Cuban friends reaffirmed their attitude towards our country, including demonstrating a full understanding of the reasons for the start of a special military operation in Ukraine,” the Russian defence chief mentioned.

Labelling them as contrary to the UN Charter, Cuba has opposed unilateral anti-Russian sanctions and credited Russia for playing a leading role in the “fight against fascism” that it believes is spreading across Europe.

“The United States and some of its allies have repeatedly invaded sovereign countries in pursuit of their interests. Cuba is against such a policy of hypocrisy and double standards. History will require the United States to be held accountable for the consequences of its aggressive military doctrine beyond NATO’s borders, which threatens peace, security and international stability,” said Alvaro Lopez Miera.

The Cuban PM, who was in Russia between June 6-17, participated in the meeting of the Eurasian Intergovernmental Council at Sochi, attended the Saint Petersburg International Economic Forum and held several bilateral meetings, including with Putin and the Vice President of the Russian Security Council Dmitri Medvedev.

Besides increasing economic, military, energy and food security cooperation, the two strategic allies also vowed to renew efforts to boost the tourism sector with Russian airline Aeroflot resuming its commercial flights to Havana on July 1.

Russia continues to participate in the international campaign of humanitarian aid to Cuba, providing assistance to Havana both bilaterally and through specialized UN programmes.

In March 2022, 19.5 thousand tonnes of Russian wheat arrived in Havana, followed by 187 tonnes of sunflower oil as well as about 700 tonnes of shelled peas delivered through the United Nations.

In February 2023, Moscow shipped another humanitarian cargo carrying 25 thousand tonnes of wheat.