Commentary: Russia, the US and the Caribbean: A political power play?

Rebecca Theodore is a syndicated op-ed columnist based in New York. She writes on the platform of national security, politics, human rights, and until recently, has added climate change to her roster. Follow her on twitter @rebethd or email [email protected]

By Rebecca Theodore

As Cold War paranoia replaces post 911 politics in the United States, it seems, that, Putin and the Russian military are not content with remaining a second-rate power. Despite the fact, that, the presence of Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes stationed on Venezuela’s Orchila island, gives notice to Washington, that, Russia is ready for an aggressive projection of power, and, for a new internationalism in Caribbean waters, many international relations theorists dismiss the move, as another of Putin’s Potemkin illusions.

For sure, Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes stationed on Venezuela’s Orchila island is the largest posting of Russian military in the Caribbean, since the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Indisputably, Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes, flying over the Caribbean Sea, and a new coalition between a socialist government, and the Kremlin, in Latin America, are reminiscent of Cold War tactics and ambitions, and should anger Washington, as, the move is centered in its backyard.

Yet, the United States is not overly concerned over Russia’s Orchila Island deployment in the Caribbean.

According to Russian Tass News agency, “a base like this could give the Trump administration all the encouragement it would need, to intercede with military force, either at the base or, more likely, against the Maduro regime.

But, U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s response that, “the Russian and Venezuelan people should see this for what it is, – two corrupt governments squandering public funds, and squelching liberty and freedom, while their people suffer,” offers little hope for retaliation.

Compounded to this, US intelligence further confirms, that, Putin is staging a global silent war against liberal democracy in the Caribbean. Bearing in mind, that, liberal democracy is Russia’s chief ideological enemy, hereto, Russia’s yearning to offset U.S exceptionalism, also challenges the U. S’s geo-strategic and military pivot, that, the Monroe doctrine is at an end, and that, the United States is no longer the sole protector of the western hemisphere. In this light, Russia also challenges the dangerous fallacies of post-cold war thinking of ‘containment’ and ‘détente’ that negated the support of communist administrations, while at the same time, eased the tensions between the United states and the Soviet Union in Latin America, and the Caribbean as well.

And the reverse could also be true.

According to Russian military Colonel Eduard Rodyukov, “Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes stationed on Venezuela’s Orchila island, is in response to US president Donald Trump’s threat to scrap nuclear treaties. Maybe, the presence of Russian warships in the Caribbean, may also be a “kind of a signal to the Trump administration, to make him realize that abandoning nuclear disarmament treaties will have a boomerang effect.” Whatever the evidence to these half truisms, as such, it still reinforces the view of critics, that, Putin’s Russia is built on an oligarchic power structure, and massive propaganda machine. Following from this, Putin’s delusional behavior in his showmanship of Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes on Caribbean soil, is an exhibition of popular legitimacy to convince his inner circles that he is invincible.

Unquestionably, Russia’s military profile in the Caribbean fuels many Caribbean governments to create a more plural foreign policy, past the deteriorating partnerships that it presently holds with the United States. The Caribbean now needs a new approach to its foreign policy, but on the other hand, it is in U.S. interest, that, Russia not create more obstacles to bolster whatever western interest the U.S. may have in Latin America and the Caribbean. Moreover, Russia’s geostrategic position as the world’s largest continental power, its nuclear power arsenal, and its permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, ensures, that, it remains a key partner in its power play with the United States. Hence, Russia’s approach on foreign-policy issues, should represent a significant alternative in the broadening spectrum of U.S relationships especially where the Caribbean is concerned.

Arguably, critics may want to reason, that, Russia is not the gravest danger facing the national security of the United States in reference to Latin America and the Caribbean. However, attention must be diverted to the growing flow of drugs from Colombia, Peru and Bolivia that is now generating a justification for growing Russia- Latin America co-operation, especially at a time, when the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime (UNODC) refuses to eliminate medical marijuana from its lists of banned substances.

Thus, Russian rendezvous with the Caribbean and Latin America is not in isolation.

Also, at a time, when both Venezuela and other Caribbean nations are experiencing increased tensions with the US over economic ties and the dissolution of democracy, Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes stationed on Venezuela’s Orchila island, highlights Latin America and the Caribbean’s geopolitical relevance on the global stage. Not ignoring the fact, that, the Trump administration continues to thwart its responsibility of administering civilian foreign aid and development assistance to many Latin American and Caribbean states, the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) is now on the decline. Intrinsically, many Caribbean states are driven by a fear of economic collapse due to the ravaging effects of climate change, and a loss of global economic power.

Still one thing is certain. Russia is making it clear, through its new global naval strategy, and recent demonstrations of its naval and air capabilities in the Caribbean, that the needs of the Caribbean, traverses post-Cold War marginal beliefs. The Caribbean needs more than only being addressed through cross-cutting themes such as social rights, the environment, and tourism. The Caribbean must be more engaged at high level political forums on the international stage, and in United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) bilateral meetings.

Consequently, Russian Tu-160 strategic bomber warplanes stationed on Venezuela’s Orchila in the Caribbean mirrors the fact, that, the long period of western neglect in the Caribbean is now apparent. Russia’s presence in the Caribbean now highlights the need for the United States to enlarge security cooperation, including drug prohibition, intelligence and cybersecurity support for many Latin American and Caribbean states. Russia may be just belching smoke, but, as to whether entities like the Organization of American States (OAS) the Caribbean Community, CARICOM, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC) and others will begin to forsake the United States for bilateral aid, and lean heavily on Russia remains to be seen.



  1. Ms Theodore must not think much of us Caribbean folks at all, or probably thinks that Caribbean people are dunce, dense, clueless, or simply ill informed about what is really taking place in Venezuela, or in the region for that matter.

    Her analysis and conclusions concerning the recent visit by the Russian pilots etc to Venezuela albeit in the midst of the so-called Venezuelan crisis is seriously flawed. She misquotes, misinforms and as a consequence misleads her audience at break neck speed into the abyss of ‘prevarication’, with her misconstrued contrived sophistry, hoping to hoodwink or deceive someone, anyone, and it certainly has to be by choice, to try to persuade to convince them, to indoctrinate them, into accepting this false narrative of events concerning the Venezuela situation and the recent Russian TU-160 visit.

    Ms Theodore, might I remind you that in reference to the Tu-160 visit to the country, and the other factors involving the military exercises etc, there isn’t a single TU-160 or any Russian military “stationed” on Orchila Island. The Venezuelan constitution forbids any foreign military base or military presence on Venezuelan soil. However, there is a military base on the island, and it’s a Venezuelan military base as we all know.

    Your constant usage of the word “stationed” throughout… is a sure giveaway which highlights your supposedly ignorance to the facts of the matter, and the real happenings on the ground, which shows up your contempt not only for and against Russia, but your prejudices and unwarranted disapproval of President Maduro the Venezuelan people and the democratically elected government of Venezuela.

    Moreover, your reference to “…Russia’s Orchila Island deployment…” is not only incorrect, but also absurd. Similarly, your mention of the following statement, presumably by the Russian Tass News agency to the effect that, “ …a base like this could give the Trump administration all the encouragement it would need, to intercede with military force…”, is definitely not from the Russian Tass News network, but are the words of the author Stephen Bryen himself, in his article “How Russian Provocation Backfired in the Caribbean”, on the web site “Asia Times”.

    Hence, the above misrepresentations altogether definitely shows you in a very bad light, that you shouldn’t be trusted as an informed source regardless of your credentials and or your affiliations, but you should be called out for what you really appear as; i.e. a blatant bold faced deceiver and anti-Maduro propagandist.

    Nevertheless, the recent visit by the Russian planes in Dec’ 2018, appears from all accounts to be a regular five (5) year occurrence, beginning in 2008 followed by 2013, and now 2018. To Venezuelans and most Caribbean nationals, it’s not even a big deal anymore, has nothing to do with any cancellation of the INF agreement, or Putin being snubbed by Trump at the G20 summit.

    In addition, folks in the region having become more aware of the truth of events concerning the threat to Venezuela and other neighboring countries from abroad, are comfortable and very much pleased with the friendly support and concerns from other nations, and Caricom’s role and its support for the Maduro government and other democratically elected governments in the region faced with similar threats; we are certainly glad to have Russia and China sharing the same friendships, giving the support and showing respect for our independence and our sovereignty, being able to visit the region on invitation from sovereign governments, which is altogether similar to the many US’s visits abroad; unlike the US’s 600+ bases stationed in 38 other countries across the globe.

    Does Russia need a military base in Venezuela or in the Caribbean? Don’t think so. In the case of Venezuela, we are certain that they can handle themselves militarily in the event of any threat from abroad. Moreover, we should remember and need not forget that at the recently concluded ALBA XVI Summit, several Latin American and Caribbean member countries have declared the region as a “zone of peace” and accordingly we would love to keep it that way.

  2. Well-needed, factual response, Vinciman!
    Russia and Putin are NOT the enemy.
    The United States and its coup-generated, US Puppet Governments’, ARE the REAL ENEMY!

    Don D.

    • Thanks comrade Don D.
      Isn’t it just ridiculous to see how these folks can come on here and just lie through their teeth without any shame, lie about our Latin American friends and neighbors, thinking they can get away with it? The nerve of these folks!
      I believe they think we’re still in the dark ages, wearing grass-skirts and bamboo-hats and are just a bunch of coconut-heads, believing that they can fool us with their ‘Imperial jargon’.
      We should remind them that we have well stock libraries, are well read, and we do our research diligently; we have Internet too, and are always well informed and ready for battle…They better think twice again, before trying to “pull the wool” over our eyes. Not going to work!


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