Russia’s Pre-election, Cold War-Era Posturing in America’s Backyard: Cuba-Nicaragua-Venezuela

It is ironic that the U.S. victory in forcing Soviet land based missiles out of Cuba in 1962, will now be reversed with Russian nuclear submarines in Cuban waters.

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By Jaime Suchlicki l October 31, 2016

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Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov

Fifty-four years after the October 1962 Cuban missile crisis that brought the world to the brink of a nuclear holocaust, the threat of Russian nuclear missiles, now on submarines, has reemerged in the Caribbean.

Russian Deputy Defense Minister Nikolay Pankov explained on October 7, that they were considering returning to their former bases in Cuba and Vietnam. The Deputy Head of the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Russian Parliament, Alexey Chepa, said earlier that Russia “should reassess the issue of our presence in other regions of the world, including Latin America.”

The continuous closer relationship between Cuba and Russia and the ambitions of Vladimir Putin would indicate a strong possibility that Russia would want to use Cuba to expand the Kremlin’s naval reach and to challenge the U.S. in its own backyard.

From Cuba’s point of view this would be a welcomed development. It could provide an opportunity for the Castro brothers to exert leverage on the Russians. At a time when Venezuela’s delivery of petroleum to Cuba is decreasing, Russian oil could fill the vacuum. The desperate economic conditions on the island would welcome any aid from its former ally.

It is not likely that initially Russia would establish a naval base in Cuba. The short term tactic would be for Russian naval vessels, including submarines, to pay short-term visits to Cuba, as well as Venezuela and Nicaraguan ports. Already on October 23, 2015, a large Russian naval intelligence ship docked in Havana during U.S.-Cuban talks.

It is ironic that the U.S. victory in forcing Soviet land based missiles out of Cuba in 1962, will now be reversed with Russian nuclear submarines in Cuban waters.

Setting limits to Russian naval expansion is a difficult task with military responses most likely off the table. Diplomacy probably won’t work. Expansion of NATO, U.S. military maneuvers or economic sanctions may exacerbate relations between the U.S. and Russia. Whomever wins the Presidency in the U.S. on November 8thwill have to face-up to Russia’s strategic objectives, not only in Eastern Europe and in the Middle East, but in close proximity to the U.S., in the Caribbean.


Jaime Suchlicki is Professor and Director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies at the University of Miami. He is the author of Cuba: From Columbus to Castro, now in its fifth edition; Mexico: From Montezuma to NAFTA, now in its second edition and the recently published Breve Historia de Cuba. Prof. Suchlicki is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research.