In difficult times, Cuba and Russia grow closer

Difficult times bring Cuba and Russia closer together


Seeking new trading partners and political allies since the invasion of Ukraine, Russia is drawing ever closer to Cuba, which, in the grip of its worst economic crisis since the fall of the Soviet bloc, has badly in need of investment.

Since the beginning of 2023, the visits of high Russian representatives have followed one another on the island. After Security Adviser Nikolai Patrushev and the CEO of the state oil company Rosneft in March, the head of diplomacy, Sergey Lavrov, visited Cuba in April.

Havana also hosted Vladimir Putin's Economic Advisor, Maxim Oreshkin, the representative of Russian entrepreneurs to the Kremlin, Boris Titov, as well as Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernychenko.

The latter presented a has a few days in Havana a “road map” to accelerate cooperation with Cuba, hit by a deep economic crisis, while representatives of about fifty Russian companies were on the island to explore investment opportunities .

At the end of this visit, which took place barely six months after the meeting in Moscow between Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and Vladimir Putin, a dozen agreements were signed to relaunch exchanges in the construction, digital, banking, sugar, transport and tourism.

Agreements that will involve “some changes” in Cuban legislation for more flexibility, said Mr. Chernychenko, as the communist government was recently forced to open its centralized economy to small and medium private enterprises.


In January, following a first visit to the island by entrepreneur Boris Titov, the Russian media had already announced the joint creation of a “Center for the economic transformation” of Cuba, s' relying on “private enterprise development”.

In the Cuban capital, Russian officials also announced the resumption in July of regular flights between Moscow and the seaside resort of Varadero with the aim of reviving the arrival of tourists from this country who, since March, can use on the island the Russian payment system Mir.

“Single period”

Close allies during the Cold War, the two countries saw their ties brutally severed in 1991 during the disintegration of the Soviet bloc, with which Cuba provided 75% of its commercial exchanges and which represented the main part of its sources of credit.

From 2005, after having been reduced to nothing, relations resumed, but they never reached the current level of exchange, described by President Diaz-Canel as a “unique period”.

Isolated internationally and subject to ever-tighter sanctions from Western countries since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, “Russia needs trading partners and political allies, and Latin America offers the possibility of having both,” Mervyn Bain, a specialist in Russia-Latin America relations at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland, told AFP.

However, “it is difficult to know up to what level” relations will develop with the island.

The Cuban president, whose government had abstained at the UN during votes on the Russian invasion of Ukraine, affirmed this week to Dimitri Chernychenko “Cuba's unconditional support” for Russia in its “confrontation with the West”.

For Vladimir Rouvinski, professor at the Icesie University in Cali, Colombia, “in any case”, the aid that Russia could provide to Cuba would be “in no way similar” to that granted by the USSR for three decades political, economic and military alliance.

“Putin's Russia is not the USSR (…) and Putin is not interested in spending millions of dollars to keep Cuba in Russian orbit, Russia does not have that money,” adds the researcher, also a specialist in relations between Moscow and Latin American countries.

According to official Russian figures, in 2022, trade trade between the two countries amounted to 450 million dollars, the triple of 2021.

For Mr. Rouvinski, in the context of Washington's unconditional support for Kÿiv, “the attractiveness of Cuba for the Putin's Russia is its geographical proximity to the United States”.

“It is the logic of symbolic reciprocity”, because “any mention of a possibility of having a new Russian military presence on the island is causing a lot of nervousness across the Florida Strait.”