Those who think that Russian President Vladimir Putin only has eyes for Ukraine are fooling themselves. Thousands of miles away from the Russian invasion of its neighbors, the Kremlin is being a “good distant friend” to Latin America, a region of enormous importance, marked by ongoing tensions between Russia and the United States. The Russian “game” goes far beyond the notorious friendly relationships with Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela. Putin’s stronger ties to two South American major powers, Argentina and Brazil, are particularly relevant.
If the image of Putin and French President Emmanuel Macron seating opposite ends of a very long table drew worldwide attention (the Kremlin used the same table for a meeting between Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Schloz), the media also took notice of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro’s presence in Moscow in mid-February. Unlike the French president, Bolsonaro sat very close to the Russian leader, who sealed their friendship with a strong handshake. “Brazil is Russia’s main trading partner in Latin America and the Caribbean,” Putin said on that occasion.
In an overseas tour that also took him to Barbados and China, Argentine President Alberto Fernández was warmly received in early February by Putin at the Kremlin. During the meeting, the Argentine leader said that his country “must be the gateway” for Russia in Latin America. According to Fernández, Argentina “has to open up to other sides, and that is where it seems to me that Russia has an important place,” he said, referring to the Casa Rosada’s interest in breaking its commercial and economic dependence on the International Monetary Fund.
Russia’s recent diplomatic interests toward Latin America is a reminder that, for Putin, there is one overriding foreign policy objective: to restore Russia to its status as a great power, capable of challenging the United States, the Chicago Tribune reported on February 15.
“Vladimir Putin seeks to position himself as a leader in an attempt to change the world and international rules. For the first time in Latin America we are understanding that things are not going to happen just far from our homes; this crisis is approaching the region at the speed of a supersonic jet,” Russian analyst Vladimir Rouvinski, professor of international relations at the Icesi University, in Cali Colombia, told the newspaper El Colombiano.