October 19, 2021

Russia and China’s Strategic Push – Intelligence Brief

fidel castro y putinRussian leader Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping toured Latin America this month in separate campaigns to expand their respective influence in the Western Hemisphere, deepen economic ties and shore up strategic support for their broader foreign policy agendas…. Both attended a BRICS summit in Brazil and made separate visits to Argentina, Cuba, and Venezuela; Putin also stopped in Nicaragua…. At the summit, leaders agreed to create their own development bank with $100 billion in funds to distance their countries from U.S.-influenced World Bank and IMF…. Xi also proposed construction of a trans-continental railroad that would stretch from Peru to Brazil…. In Argentina, Putin signed a nuclear power agreement; in Cuba, he cancelled nearly all of its $32 billion debt to Russia and pledged Russian help to explore for oil in Cuban waters; his Nicaragua trip raised speculation about Russia’s interest in a proposed canal to compete with Panama’s; and in Brazil, he expressed interest in investing in that country’s oil sector…. Xi signed multibillion-dollar deals with Argentina on infrastructure and currency swaps; in Venezuela, he granted an additional $4 billion credit line to Nicolas Maduro’s critically cash-strapped government; and in Cuba, he was accompanied by 50 Chinese businessmen to promote increased investment in that bankrupt country…. Chinese trade with the region went from $12 billion in 2000 to $261 billion in 2013, making it Latin America’s second trading partner, behind the United States.

• Russia’s interest in Venezuela hydrocarbons and regional weapons sales, and China’s interest in Latin America’s abundant natural resources – primarily oil, soybeans, and iron-ore – are well-established. However, these visits appear to have a geopolitical component, as well, as all of the countries visited are known to have difficult relations with the United States. Many see a “soft power” push by both China (both public and private funding) and Russia (energy) to win goodwill and undercut U.S. influence in a region they see as being increasingly neglected by Washington. They envision that economic support and soft power will translate to political backing (a strategy that has worked for China in Africa), especially in multilateral forums, as clashes with the United States are expected to increase over both countries’ territorial ambitions closer to home. The BRICS countries’ engagement of Putin in the middle of Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is a dramatic result of this outreach.