OPINION: Russia has plans for military collaboration with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and if the current trajectory of provocation continues, this could lead to a whole new era of heightened tension and potentially armed conflagration, writes Shannon Ebrahim.
What if Russian troops and missiles are deployed in Cuba and Nicaragua, and the establishment of Russian military bases are underway? What would the reaction of the US be? We know the answer to that because after Russia’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was asked about the possibility of sending troops to Latin America earlier this month, the US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said the US would act decisively if there was Russian military activity in Latin America.
So that begs the question: Why should Russia not act decisively when there is a build-up of Western forces in its own backyard, a web of Western military bases already in place, and the imminent threat of Nato extending its military presence right up to Russia’s borders by possibly accepting Ukraine as a member? Should Russia be any less concerned about the current threat to its national security than the US would be under similar circumstances?
The answer is that Russia would never get as far as establishing a military presence anywhere near the borders of the US without setting off an international crisis that could lead to a world war.
The only reason the West got away with expanding its military presence in Russia’s sphere of influence was due to Russia’s weakened position in the wake of the collapse of the Soviet Union when Russia’s economy was on its knees and it could do little more than watch as the West enveloped former Soviet states into its ambit under Nato.
It was a catastrophe for Russia when Nato welcomed former Warsaw Pact states in the late 1990s such as the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland. Then in the early 2000s, Nato brought in Bulgaria, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Romania, Slovakia and Slovenia.
In 2007 Russian President Vladimir Putin said that Nato expansion did not have any relation with the modernisation of the alliance or with ensuring security in Europe, but that Nato expansion was a serious provocation.
In 2009 Albania and Croatia were welcomed as members, in 2017 Montenegro was admitted, and last year North Macedonia. There was a promise in 2008 that Georgia would be admitted as a Nato member, which raised a huge red flag for the Russians.
Russia contends that the US violated its promise made in 1990 by US Secretary of State James Baker who said “there would be no extension of Nato’s jurisdiction for forces of Nato one inch to the east”.
The equivalent scenario would be if Russia had emerged from the Cold War era as a stronger power, and had convinced Nicaragua, Guatemala, Honduras, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Panama, Venezuela, Colombia, Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas to join the Warsaw Pact over the proceeding three decades.
Imagine the national humiliation to the United States if Russia had then proceeded to establish a web of military bases in those countries, and deployed sophisticated weaponry on their soil. Would that not be a serious threat to the national security of the US?
Russia has amassed 100 000 troops on the border with Ukraine to make the point that it will never accept Ukraine becoming a Nato member - it would be like Mexico having become a member of the Warsaw Pact.
That is where Russia has drawn a red line, and it is not without reason as Ukraine has been actively involved in military drills and exercises with Nato forces even though it is not officially a member of the alliance, and it has been supplied with weapons. Some Nato members also want to set up military training centres in Ukraine which would give them a foothold in the region.
Had the tables been turned, such a Russian military presence in Mexico would not have been as emotionally inflammatory as a Nato military presence in Ukraine would be. Ukraine has had strong historic ties to Russia, and Russians comprise approximately 17.3 percent of the population of Ukraine.
This community forms the largest single Russian diaspora in the world.
The emotional ties of Russians to the diaspora in Ukraine cannot be underestimated, and attempts to assimilate the Russian population in Ukraine has caused great consternation.
The Russian language is being constantly suppressed in Ukraine, with more than 70 Russian TV channels banned, and schools in Ukraine have recently scrapped the Russian language from their curricula.
Given Russia’s real security concerns, it wants legally binding security guarantees from the US and Nato that Nato membership will be denied to Ukraine and Georgia, and that Nato must end its eastward expansion.
It wants Nato to roll back the deployment of troops and weapons in central and eastern Europe, and halt Nato drills near Russia’s borders. No intermediate range missiles should be stationed in areas where they can strike the other party’s territory.
Nato is unlikely to accede to Russia’s demands which presents the greatest risk to international peace and security. Russia has plans for military collaboration with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and if the current trajectory of provocation continues, this could lead to a whole new era of heightened tension and potentially armed conflagration.
* Shannon Ebrahim is Independent Media Group’s Foreign Editor.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of IOL and Independent Media.