Russia’s Lavrov Due To Start a Tour of Latin America To Shore Up Axis of Evil

Kremlin’s foreign minister expected to make stops at Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil.

AP/Peter K. Afriyie
Russia Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov speaks at a media briefing on January 24, 2024, at United Nations Headquarters. AP/Peter K. Afriyie

Russia’s minister of foreign affairs, Sergey Lavrov, will travel to Cuba, Venezuela, and Brazil starting Monday — and it bodes nothing but trouble.

The first stop is Communist Cuba. Mr. Lavrov will meet with Cuba’s president, Miguel Díaz-Canel Bermúdez, and foreign minister, Bruno Rodríguez, the Kremlin says.

Cuba and Russia “have a special relationship,” a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, Elliott Abrams, tells the Sun. Security cooperation between the two intensified following Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. 

In 2022, the Cuban government blamed America for Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moscow’s demand for troops in the war has led it to recruit foreign mercenaries, and Cuba has become a target as Cubans look to escape poverty. Mr. Lavrov will have a day to convince Havana to send him additional troops.

Russia’s naval activity in Cuban ports last year and China’s spy base on the island highlight the presence of the “axis of evil” in Latin America. “It’s an unholy alliance” of “narcotrafficking criminals,” a graduate fellow at the Manhattan Institute, Daniel Di Martino, tells the Sun.

On the second day, Mr. Lavrov will alight at Caracas to meet Venezuela’s Marxist president, Nicolás Maduro, and vice president, Delcy Rodríguez. Mr. Maduro also plans to visit Russia this year.

Mr. Lavrov’s trips to Venezuela and Cuba are “like the priest making his rounds in his parish,” Mr. Abrams, who under president Trump, served as special representative to Venezuela, tells the Sun.

America “forgot about Latin America, but Russia and China did not,” says Mr. Di Martino, who was born and raised in Venezuela. “Russia will be the one who benefits from what happens in Venezuela,” he says.

Eight days before Russia invaded Ukraine in 2022, Venezuela issued two statements on its foreign ministry website, one to reaffirm “unreserved support to Russia in conflict with Ukraine” and the other to strengthen “the path of powerful military cooperation” between Venezuela and Russia.

In October, America lifted a number of sanctions — the removal of the debt-trading ban being permanent — against Venezuela given the idea that President Maduro’s deal with the opposition marked the dawn of free and fair elections. The recent ban on leading opposition candidate Maria Machado does not portend well for those prospects.

Venezuela’s recent record of repression is piling up: expelling United Nations human rights officers from its territory; detaining and disappearing a human right activist, Rocío San Miguel; barring Ms. Machado from holding office; threatening neighboring Guyana’s Essequibo region with a troop build-up on the border.

Mr. Abrams says he is concerned about the troop build-up. “It’s an old playbook, trying to gain popularity by starting a war — not inconceivable that Maduro would try that,” he says.

Bondholders and the White House believe that sanctions on purchasing debt only benefit adversaries by displacing American investors. Mr. Abrams says it is “more important to oppose dictatorship in Latin America than to support Chevron,” which has capitalized on the relaxation of sanctions.

Mr. Abrams says the Biden administration “has an obligation to reimpose the sanctions” noting that the “concessions to Maduro have failed, simply failed.” Mr. Di Martino agrees, “Maduro has increased repression and in exchange, gets money from American oil companies.” 

Mr. Lavrov will conclude his trip with two days in Brazil for the G20 foreign ministers meeting. Brazil’s president, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, “is aligned with Russia in seeking a multipolar world” with a “stronger role for bodies such as Brics and G20,” an adjunct fellow at the Hudson Institute, Daniel Batlle, tells the Sun. Brics was created by Russia in 2009 to promote investment in emerging economies and challenge the American-led world order. 

Mr. da Silva “will do nothing to support democracy in the western hemisphere,” says Mr. Abrams. He tells the Sun, however, that the Biden administration should be discussing Venezuela’s military buildup with Brazil. “Lula would be a good person to tell Maduro ‘don’t even think about it.’” 

Mr. Di Martino says otherwise, “it’s a mistake for America to think that we can pull Lula into our orbit.” Why else, he asks, would Mr. da Silva allow Mr. Lavrov into his country while waging war against Ukraine? The only way to change this, he says, “is if there are different people in charge.”

Mr. Lavrov will be courting his partners in the western hemisphere this week against the American-led world order. The visit, says Mr. Batlle, “highlights the importance that Latin America has for Russian efforts to advance its vision” and “counter American influence.” 

Both Messrs. Abrams and Di Martino mention how important the region is to America. American interests “lie in the promotion of the hemisphere of freedom,” says Mr. Abrams. Latin America could be a free and prosperous region, Mr. Di Martino says, “that would be great for America.”

The New York Sun

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