Ramped Up US Sanctions Sending Cuba Closer to Russia & China, Moscow’s Trade Rep Says

© Radio y Television MartiA passenger aircraft from Russia's national airline Aeroflot lands at Cuba's Havana Jose Marti International Airport in 2013.
A passenger aircraft from Russia's national airline Aeroflot lands at Cuba's Havana Jose Marti International Airport in 2013. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.01.2022
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Cuba, China and Russia helped form a UN group of 18 nations in March 2021 to stand up against unilateral sanctions and other moves against them by the United States and European Union.
Cuba’s relationships with Russia and China have deepened in recent years as US sanctions attempt to choke off all trade with the socialist island nation.
Aleksandr Bogatyr, Russia’s trade representative in Havana, told Russian media on Friday that while bilateral trade in 2021 was still suffering due to the COVID-19 pandemic, which hit Cuba badly in the middle of the year, recent economic reforms hold the promise of further opening up trade with Russia.
"The exit from tough anti-COVID restrictions gradually returns the life of people and functioning of the economy to a normal path,” Bogatyr said. “Indeed it is still far from the ‘as it was’ state in Cuba just as globally, but the process is underway.”
He noted that Cuba’s gross domestic product declined by 11% in 2020, the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and was only expected to grow by about 2% in 2021. Trade turnover with Cuba totaled $97.9 million between January and October 2021, about 14.5% less than the same period in 2020.
A week prior, the Cuban Foreign Ministry said in a ministerial-level meeting with their Russian counterparts, “the parties exchanged views on various urgent issues of the international multilateral agenda, including the aggravation of the economic, trade and financial blockade imposed by the US government against Cuba in the context of the [coronavirus] pandemic.”

Russia’s Long Friendship With Cuba

The US has maintained sanctions barring most trade with Cuba since the 1959 revolution that ousted the US-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista and ushered in a socialist government, which allied itself with the Soviet Union. The USSR became Cuba’s primary trade partner, providing it with fuel and machinery in exchange for buying up the sugar it once sold to the US, but this time at prices balanced in Havana’s favor.
That relationship ended when the USSR dissolved in 1991, plunging Cuba into the Special Period of economic strife. However, Cuba’s relations with Russia slowly improved, making a major leap in 2014, when the US and its allies positioned themselves as opposing Russia’s so-called aggression against Ukraine. Crimea declared independence from Ukraine and voted to rejoin Russia after a US-backed coup brought a right-wing nationalist government to power in Kiev, but the NATO powers refused to recognize the Crimean referendum’s legitimacy and began treating Russia as an enemy, positioning large numbers of troops in the NATO nations on Russia’s western border.
© Sputnik / Alexander WilfRussian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel during their meeting at Novo-Ogarevo residence, outside Moscow, Russia.
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel during their meeting at Novo-Ogarevo residence, outside Moscow, Russia. - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.01.2022
Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel during their meeting at Novo-Ogarevo residence, outside Moscow, Russia.
That year, Moscow forgave 90% of Cuba’s $32 billion Cold War-era debt. Three years later, when US sanctions on Venezuela began seriously impeding that country’s “oil for doctors” deal with Cuba, Russia stepped in and sent them 250,000 tons of oil and diesel fuel.
In October 2020, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez said the blockade had cost Cuba a total of $144 billion in lost revenue which, "for a small economy like Cuba's, is an overwhelming burden," he noted.
"Not a week goes by without some new additional measure against Cuba and its population being issued in Washington," Rodriguez said at the time, calling the sanctions “an act of genocide and economic warfare" against the Cuban people.
That was before the July 2021 protests fueled by anger over power brownouts associated with the island’s largest-ever Covid outbreak, which the US seized on as anti-government demonstrations and mounted an all-out ideological offensive to amplify and drive a deeper wedge into Cuban society. A slew of new sanctions followed, adding to the 243 new sanctions put in place by former US President Donald Trump since 2017.
However, the summer outbreak was followed by a mass vaccination campaign which by October had succeeded at getting 82.8% of the population at least one shot from one of several indigenously developed SARS-CoV-2 vaccines; on Friday, the Cuban Ministry of Public Health announced that 86.4% of Cubans had finished their vaccination scheme. The victory allowed both schools and tourism to reopen in November, bringing the promise of greater economic recovery.
Despite the lower overall numbers, in 2021 Russia became Cuba’s primary tourism market, with 170,000 Russian tourists visiting the island by the end of November, according to Cuban Tourism Minister Juan Carlos Garcia.

Cuba Joins China’s BRI

Cuba’s relationship with China has burgeoned in recent years, as well. In late December, the two governments signed a cooperation plan to promote the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI), a massive world-spanning infrastructure project begun by China, Kawsachun News reported.
The agreement lays out a timetable and various areas of cooperation, including infrastructure, technology, culture, education, tourism, energy, communications and biotechnology, which the paper notes are “in line with Cuba's development plans for the short and long term.” Cuba had previously joined the BRI’s energy partnership in October, which promises to help them achieve their 2030 goal of producing 24% of its energy from renewable sources, such as with wind turbines and photovoltaic cells.
© AP Photo / Ramon EspinosaSoviet-era Lada cars flying Cuban flag drive past the American embassy during a rally calling for the end of the US blockade against the island nation in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 28, 2021
Soviet-era Lada cars flying Cuban flag drive past the American embassy during a rally calling for the end of the US blockade against the island nation in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 28, 2021 - Sputnik International, 1920, 03.01.2022
Soviet-era Lada cars flying Cuban flag drive past the American embassy during a rally calling for the end of the US blockade against the island nation in Havana, Cuba, Sunday, March 28, 2021
The People’s Republic of China (PRC) is already Cuba’s largest trading partner, and Cuba is China’s second-largest trading partner in the Caribbean. Beijing’s relationships in the Caribbean are expanding all around, with Nicaragua recently switching its recognition of the Chinese government from Taipei to Beijing - again, under the pressure of US sanctions against its left-wing government. Honduras’ president-elect, Xiomara Castro, ran on a platform of making the same switch, but recently her incoming administration indicated that change wouldn’t be immediate.
"China is actively maintaining the normal order of international relations and striving to promote common development across the world, unlike the US, which, under the banner of democracy, has imposed an economic embargo on some Latin American countries, interfering in their internal affairs and limiting cooperation among foreign companies," Zhou Zhiwei, a research fellow on Latin American studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.
Like Russia and Cuba, China has also become the target of US hostility in recent years as Washington shifts its global strategy from the War on Terror toward what it calls “great power competition” with Moscow and Beijing. While the change was articulated under Trump, US President Joe Biden has maintained and expanded that strategy, deepening its sanctions and its ideological offensive against all three nations and many more, such as Venezuela, Iran, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and Eritrea.
In March 2021, all the above-mentioned states joined up with more than a dozen others commonly targeted by US foreign policy to form the Group of Friends in Defense of the Charter of the United Nations. The group of 18 nations said it was concerned about “a growing resort to unilateralism, marked by isolationist and arbitrary actions, including the imposition of unilateral coercive measures or the withdrawal from landmark agreements and multilateral institutions, as well as by attempts to undermine critical efforts to tackle common and global challenges.”
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