Russia in Latin America: Beware of Putin Bearing Gifts

Before entering into the big politics, Putin (in the background) was “assistant” to St. Petersburg’s Mayor Anatoliy Sobchak, part of his job was to carry his boss’s luggage

On March 24, 2015, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov kicked off his visit to four Latin-American countries.

The first two stops was symbolic of the kind of relations that Russia has with our continent: Cuba and Nicaragua. Afterwards followed two countries traditionally allied with the Kremlin’s eternal enemy in Washington: Colombia and Guatemala.

In Guatemala, Lavrov met with his counterparts from the Central American Integration System (SICA), which brings together the seven countries of the region (Belize, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Costa Rica, and Panama) and the Dominican Republic.

It’s worth recalling that Russia, always plagued by the follies of its authoritarian leader of the day, is going through its worst crisis of the last 17 years. Since Vladimir Putin assumed power in 1999, his entire domestic policy has focused on manipulating Russians through populism and lies in order to restrict their few remaining freedoms. Putin hasn’t had to work too hard to become a protodictator of the kind that Russians are accustomed.

There are three principal factors in the current crisis facing Russia. The disastrous economic policies of the Russian government, based on levels of corruption unimaginable even for Latin America, have shown the complete incompetence of Putin and his ministers and their inability to manage the state.

The second factor is related to the schizophrenic vision of Putin, supported by the Orthodox Church, of the role of Russia as the “navel of the world,” the center of an ancient and pure civilization, which allegedly provokes the murderous jealousy of the West.

This, repeated thousands of times, has become an absolute truth for the Russian people. Putin, with the support of the Church — seeming more and more like a totalitarian sect — and his propaganda minister Lavrov, have been able to rally people around an insane, unshakeable belief: all the world, headed by the United States, is desperate to wipe Russia off the map.

This strategy of creating an enemy to manipulate the masses is well known. Blaming the United States for everything is the strategy of choice of the Castro brothers, Ortega, Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro, and all their minions. What a coincidence!

The third factor, perhaps the most important among the causes of Russia’s present economic and social crisis, is the constant violation of international law by the Kremlin. In 2008, when Russia attacked Georgia and illegally occupied the provinces of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, the international community was indignant but did absolutely nothing.

The governments of the world and the United Nations treated it as an isolated act: they forgave Putin, giving him the green light to continue attacking his neighbors. In 2014, Russia stabbed another of its neighbors and closest historical allies in the back, when it took advantage of an internal crisis in Ukraine to illegally annex Crimea on a risible pretext and begin a war in Eastern Ukraine.

Both crimes — the military invasion of Crimea and that of Eastern Ukraine — are denied by Putin and his cadre, above all by his attack dog and most loyal propagandist Lavrov. For over a year, Lavrov has repeatedly taken to the Orwellian state news channel RT (Russia Today), and used his pawn at the United Nations, just died Ambassador Vitaly Churkin, to lie to the whole world about Russia’s participation in the seizure of Crimea and the war in Ukraine.

However, the truth has since emerged: Putin himself admitted in a documentary screened on a state TV channel last week that he gave the orders for Russian troops to invade Crimea before its annexation, and even said that he was prepared to use nuclear weapons against Western Europe and the United States.

And while Putin, despite all evidence to the contrary, continues to deny the obvious participation of the Russian army in the war in Eastern Ukraine, the same Russian terrorists in Ukraine released information on March 24, 2015, that a senior Russian military officer was directing an artillery bombardment against Kiev-aligned forces.

All of these crimes committed by the Kremlin in Ukraine will be the object of a demand that Kiev is preparing to present before The Hague, hoping to see Putin and Lavrov one day condemned for crimes against humanity, even while history has already judged them.

The question now is what the propagandist-in-chief Lavrov wants from Latin America. Those countries in the region that haven’t already fallen into Putin’s grip should think carefully about forming an alliance with a country whose history has shown that “friendship” with the Kremlin is a synonym for “betrayal” — betrayal of its closet allies and neighbors going back decades, if not centuries.

We don’t have to go too far back to remember the division of Europe made by the two biggest criminals of the past 100 years, Stalin and Hitler, when the USSR invaded Poland and precipitated World War II.

That’s not forgetting the later threats against and invasions of Finland, Hungary, the former Czechoslovakia, and Afghanistan, among others, throughout the second half of the 20th century, and that of Georgia and Ukraine scarcely 15 years into the 21st. Nor has the aggression stopped: only on March 23, 2015, the Russian ambassador threatened Denmark with nuclear attack.

With friends like these, who needs enemies? It only remains to be seen who else in Latin America will fall into the traitorous trap set by Lavrov and his puppet-master in the Kremlin.

Originally published at PanamPost and translated by Laurie Blair