Tony Halpin’s new article in the Times of London probably carries one of the paper’s less tactful headlines today: “Russia engages in ‘gangland’ diplomacy as it sends warship to the Caribbean.” Halpin reports: Deputy Prime Minister Igor Sechin made clear that Russia would challenge the US for influence in Latin America after visits last week to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba. He said: “It would be wrong to talk about one nation having exclusive rights to this zone.” Moscow was infuriated when Washington sent US warships into the Black Sea to deliver aid to Georgia after the war. Analysts said that the Kremlin was engaging in gunboat diplomacy over the encroachment of Nato into Russia’s former Soviet satellites of Georgia and Ukraine. However of far more significance in my opinion is Venezuela’s recent military and energy dealings with China, which is tremendously more serious than a symbolic series of war games with the Russians. The Russians are looking for short-term leverage in response to events in the Caucasus, while the Chinese typically undertake these types of relationships with long-term position in mind. This is a real foreign policy worry for Washington. You can practically listen to the crumbling sound of U.S. influence falling apart in Latin America, especially in the advantageous moments of the final days of a lame duck presidency.