Russia is looking to expand its military presence and has its eye on Cuba and other Latin American countries.
Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu said Russia has come up with a list of countries where it’s considering opening military bases. They include Cuba, Nicaragua, Venezuela and Vietnam, according to Russia’s state-owned RIA Novosti news agency.
“The talks are under way,” Shoigu told reporters in Moscow.
Russia has made several inroads in Cuba, including in nuclear energy, train repair and air traffic control technology. Cuban President Raul Castro visited Moscow last year to attend the 70th anniversary celebration of the defeat of the Nazis in World War II and the Red Army's key role in the defeat.
Cuban state media has cited the Russian military overtures, but the Castro administration has not offered any public indication of whether they’re welcomed. Gregory Weeks, the editor of the academic journal The Latin Americanist, doubts Cuba would allow the Russian government to open a military base on the island as it could be seen as a threat to the United States at a time when the island nation is seeking better relations with its larger northern neighbor.
“I don’t see any chance of that happening,” said Gregory Weeks, the chairman of the department of political science and public administration at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. “I don’t think Cuba want this. Cuba just spent years trying to improve relations with the U.S.. If they allow Russia to open a military base, all that would blow up.”
Russia pulled out of Cuba and Vietnam in the early 2000s as part of efforts to lower its military presence and improve ties with the United States. They included closing it Lourdes signals intelligence base in Cuba and the Cam Rahn naval base in Vietnam, which the country is considering reopening.
Russia has made inroads in Nicaragua, which has raised concerns in Washington. It was one of several reasons cited by members of Congress who voted to restrict Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega government’s access to loans from international financial institutions unless it accepts international observers and takes other steps to promote democracy.
In August, Russia sold or gave Nicaragua 50 Russian tanks, received access to Nicaragua’s airspace and ports and got approval to build a law enforcement center near the Pacific coast.