Cuba and Russia agree new economic ties as US turns inwards

Communist Caribbean island rekindles Cold War alliances as Moscow looks to fill void left by US

Cuba's signature 1950s US-made cars could soon be replaced by Russian Ladas
(Image credit: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images)

Cuba has significantly boosted its trade links with Russia, as it looks offset the economic damage done by the renewal of US sanctions.

Under President Trump, the US has reversed its Obama-era policy of increasing engagement with Cuba, leading the communist Caribbean island to rekindle Cold War relationships with its former Soviet ally.

While its main trading partner remains China, the government in Havana is in the process of negotiating a series of new trade deals with Russian state companies. There has already been an 81% jump in Russian exports to the island this year alone.

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Last weekend, Igor Sechin, the head of Russian state oil company Rosneft, travelled to Havana to meet Cuban President Raul Castro to discuss a possible new energy deal between the two countries.

In May, Rosneft started shipping oil to Cuba for the first time since the Cold War and, in a symbolic move, 300 new Russian-made Lada cars will be delivered to Cuba next month, replacing some of the decades-old Soviet vehicles that have dominated Cuba’s streets for decades. Russia has also recently agreed to write off $35bn in debt that Cuba owed from the Soviet era.

Reuters says “it is all part of a broader move by Moscow to renew commercial, military and political ties just as the US government is retreating from Cuba under President Trump”. The Independent says Moscow “is seizing on that rollback as a way to undermine American influence in its own backyard”.

Jason Marczak, Director at the Adrienne Arsht Latin America Center told Reuters that this was a risky strategy and could have serious economic consequences further down the road

“The more the Russian footprint increases in Cuba, the more that will reinforce hardened anti-US attitudes and shut out US businesses from eventually doing greater business in Cuba,” he warned.

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