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Russia’s Ambitions in Latin America

The following is from an interview with Charles A. Kupchan of the Council on Foreign Relations, republished in the New York Times.  Kupchan suggests that despite low oil prices, political unrest may lead the Kremlin to further adventures in Latin America as a function of “external ambition” to rally the support base.  Given the news from Cuba today, he’s probably right.

It’s been suggested by some people that the severe drop in oil prices, from 146 dollars a barrel to 40 dollars a barrel, has deeply hurt Russia’s economy and will have the effect of reducing the sort of confrontational nature of recent Russian policy. Do you agree?

It cuts both ways. On the positive side of the ledger there will be fewer resources around for building up the military or pursuing policies that are expensive and ambitious. Or sending fleets and aircraft on global surveillance missions.

Like the highly publicized flights by Russian bombers to Venezuela?

Yes. You know, a lot of this stuff is bluster, but it does require resources, and it requires a certain level of self-confidence. So from that perspective, Russia will be pulling in its horns. But the less positive interpretation would be that countries which experience economic distress tend to move in a nationalist and populist direction. And so it may be that if the Kremlin finds itself strapped and there is discontent among the Russian electorate, Medvedev, Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, and others are more prone to rely on external ambition and nationalism to rally domestic support.