Russia in Latin America: Beyond Economic Opportunities

- 20 September 2021

Trade topics: Regional Integration, Russia, Latin America

This chapter, was published in the book. "Forward to the Pase? New/Old Theatres of Russia’s International Projection". 
Despite the physical distance that separates Russia from Latin America and the Caribbean and weaker dynamics of trade and commerce compared with many other cases, relations with the countries of the region occupy a special place in the contemporary Russian foreign policy. As we explain in this chapter, this is because the government of Vladimir Putin has learned to appreciate the value of Russia’s interactions with this part of the world for Moscow’s short-, medium-, and long-term goals on the international arena.
At the same time, considering the changing patterns of Russian-Latin American relations, it is important to point out that the evolution of Russia’s post-Soviet approach to this distant geographical area cannot be separated from the transformation of Russian foreign policy in broader terms. When Russia decided to return to the Western Hemisphere at the end of the 1990s, it did not want to replicate the USSR’s Cold War policy, although the Soviet legacy was certainly taken into account. Back then, Moscow’s primary interests in its international relations responded to the urgent tasks on the domestic political agenda and to the need to find new business opportunities for its defence industries and energy sector.
In this context, the beginning of the Russian love story with Latin America and the Caribbean was barely noticed by outside observers. However, two decades later, the scenario is completely different. There is widespread recognition of Russia as a major extra-regional actor whose actions can be a game-changer, as evidenced by the 2019 political crisis in Venezuela. In addition, some of the most important Russian energy and defence companies have established a noticeable presence in the region. The volume of trade and commerce has risen steeply as well. This change has taken place since Russia’s current strategy in Latin America is an essential part of a complex foreign policy design by the Kremlin, in which reciprocity with the United States is not the only logic that rules the day. Legitimate concerns over the future of Russia as a global economic player are also important.
The main objective of this chapter is to trace the evolution of Russian relations with Latin America and the Caribbean in order to explain the key reasons behind the change in Moscow’s policies towards the region. We will also illustrate our general assumptions through the case study of Venezuela. We will conclude our review of Russian-Latin American relations by describing some of the challenges faced by Moscow with regard to future scenarios.