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Grigory Pasko: An Interview with a Russian Latin Americanist

Boris Martynov: “Russia’s geopolitical interest in Latin America needs to be reinforced with economics”

Grigory Pasko, journalist

The Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences has existed since the year 1961. When I saw this building, a thought flashed through my mind: the last modernization of this building took place also not in this century. The arrangement in the office of deputy director of the institute Boris Martynov turned out to be very modest as well. However, some of the exhibits hanging on the wall clearly bore witness that this is the office of a man seriously involved with Latin America.

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Boris Fedorovich, when was the last time you were over there?

We’ve got rather broad ties. It’s hard to fly there, because it’s expensive. But we’re often in the countries of Europe at seminars, dedicated to the problems of Latin America. Sometimes they invite us to Mexico or to Brazil. I was in Brazil last year, in the uneasy August. There’s a lot more we could be doing in terms of informational policy. We’ve got the old Soviet system, working on the principle of «don’t stick your neck out». The Brazilians treat us well, they greatly regretted the breakup of the USSR.

How natural and advisable do you consider Russia’s getting closer to the countries of Latin America?

This getting closer should have come much earlier. In the thinking of the powers that be and especially of our business, Latin America – this is a faraway continent, that this is weakly developed countries, that they’re dependent on the USA…. This is a stereotype of the thinking of the ’50s of the previous century. The countries of Latin America have not been weakly developed for a long time already, and they aren’t dependent on the USA for a long time already. This is already not the sphere of influence of the USA. These countries did not support the bombing of Yugoslavia, they are conducting an independent policy. Collectively came out against the intervention of the USA in Iraq… For us, geopolitical considerations have come to the forefront. It has become comprehensible that the West is not going to welcome us with open arms, that the West does not regard us as a part of western civilization.

“Russia has every right to declare about its strategic interests in the Western hemisphere against the background of the declarations of the USA about its interests on the post-Soviet space.” This is a typical phrase of our politicians and a frequent line from their commentaries. But why couldn’t Russia have declared about its interests on the post-Soviet space? Why did it so maniacally spawn enemies around itself precisely on the post-Soviet space?

Yes, there are problems here. But in relation to the far abroad, we see mutual interest. We have something to offer to them, and they – to us. There won’t be any mutual embraces. Only mutual interest. Of course, Latin America – is not a bad geopolitical ally. If the USA has interests in Central Asia, in Georgia, then why can’t we have interests in Central and Latin America? We need to maintain the situation at the height attained. Geopolitical interest needs to be reinforced with an economic component. But I’m afraid that we will once again swallow the bait of some kind of promises, for example, on the part of the USA and «good king» Obama and will once again scale down relations with the countries of Latin America. We always ride on emotions. And we will forget once again how we left bases in Lourdes [Cuba], in Cam Ranh [Viet Nam]. We still haven’t sorted out the question with debts to Cuba after all this time, she’s still sending us bills.

Isn’t Russia in danger of ill-feeling on the part of Brazil, Guyana, and Colombia in connection with shipments of Russian weapons to Venezuela?

One needs to know one’s measure in everything, not get carried away. Certain fears of Brazil with respect to Venezuela are artificial. Brazil has nothing to fear. They are countries friendly with Venezuela and they’ve got mutual plans. Brazilian diplomacy is the most experienced and professional. Brazil is afraid of the USA, is afraid for its territory. We are afraid for our Siberia, they – for Amazonia. This is resources. While in the USA, as is known, scientific research is starting up relative to big territories with low population density. With that conclusion that this is disadvantageous for one country, that this has an impact on the ecology of the planet. So let’s sort things out with them, they say; we’ll leave them nominal control. That’s how they’re writing in American books. There have even been hearings in the Brazilian national congress. A question was asked: can the army of Brazil defend against the USA? It was said that no, it can not.

– “For the United States, striving for the simple maintaining of “stability” in the region and providing there for its interests, the main directions of security policy have become the observance of democracy and human rights, the limitation of the role of the armies of the Latin American countries by political functions, the struggle with narco-traffic, terrorism, crime, corruption and counteracting unlawful migration.” This is from your doctoral dissertation» of the year 1999. What’s so bad in such plans of the USA and why is Russia not placing (or is not loudly proclaiming, at any rate) these same interests and objectives in that region? And is talking more about military-technical cooperation, somehow.

(Falters slightly) You should have dug deeper, there’s a tricky thing there. For the USA, all this is just words. The understanding both here and there is absolutely different. For 13 years they were adopting a conception of the general security of the countries of America. Why 13 years? And the result was 5 pages. Terrorism, narco-traffic, democracy… Sheer truisms, because there’s a different understanding of the concepts of terrorism, democracy… The struggle with the proliferation of nuclear weapons. If the shah were in Iran, the USA would have a different attitude towards the Iranian nuclear program. The USA armed Pakistan. They adopted an inter-American convention, but even in it there is no definition of what terrorists are. Ensuring a free hand – this is what the struggle with terrorism, democracy is for the USA.

If everybody in the whole world is so irritated by the Iranian nuclear program, being implemented not without the help of the RF, will not the Venezuelan one, likewise being implemented not without the help of the RF, become the same kind of irritant?

Why are the USA and allies irritated by Iran? Let us imagine to ourselves that if in the place of Akhmadinejad there would be a friend of the USA, there would not be irritation. The launch of an Iranian missile and satellite – that’s when their hair should have stood on end. But somehow everything passed by quietly. Because they need this, it plays into their hand, Barack Obama’s rapprochement with Iran is not from a pure heart, but to advance the Nabucco gas pipeline project. And for the deployment of the USA’s triad in Poland and Czechia, an Iranian satellite – is an additional argument.

But I haven’t heard anything about a Venezuelan nuclear program. In Latin America there are many obstacles for the creation of nuclear arms. It is known that in the year 1967 was signed a Treaty on the creation of a nuclear-free zone in Latin America – the Treaty of Tlatelolco. There exists regional control over compliance with the treaty and international – along the line of the IAEA. Besides this, in the 1970s, Brazil and Argentina signed the Treaty of Mendosa, abjuring the creation of nuclear arms. So I seriously doubt that Chavez has any nuclear ambitions.

If the principal direction of cooperation will lie in the sphere of production and processing of oil and the help that Russia could render in the construction of the so-called «South American gas ring», for how long will this be? After all, the reserves of oil and gas in Venezuela and Russia are short-lived?

One should not try to look that far. Of course the reserves will end eventually. That is why it is so important right now for Russia to lay the foundations of cooperation that is not subjected to lightweight conjuncture. I think that there are prospects for cooperation in the realm of power generation and besides oil and gas. Brazil is the world’s second largest exporter of ethanol; besides this, she has technologies for the production of biofuel. If in the USA and Western Europe, corn or rapeseed is refined in order to obtain ethanol, then in Brazil – inexpensive sugar cane. It provides fuel to 40% of Brazilian automobiles. It will be advantageous for Russia to cooperate in the realm of such technologies.

(To be continued…)

Boris Martynov (photo by Grigory Pasko)

* Boris Fedorovich Martynov — born 1953, graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the USSR in 1975, doctor of political science («Evolution of security doctrines and policy of Latin American countries», Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences). Since 2000 — deputy director of the Institute of Latin America of the Russian Academy of Sciences. Since 1998 — professor at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the RF. In 1993-1995, taught at the University of Brasilia (Brazil) and Florida International University (USA).