Russian political and commercial presence growing across region

27 October 2017

Russia and Suriname are close to signing a military cooperation agreement, according to the Director of the Department of Latin America, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Russian Federation, Alexandr Schetinin. The development, possibly a first for a CARICOM nation since the 1979-83 Grenada revolution, comes at a time when several other Russian economic and political initiatives are underway in the Caribbean.

Appearing on October 10 before Russia’s Duma (Lower House of Parliament) Mr Schetinin said that a military cooperation agreement had been drafted and that representatives of the ministries of Defence of both countries “are ready to sign it in the near future”. Suriname has traditionally maintained military relations with China, the US, France, the Netherlands, and India.

He also told Russian parliamentarians that the foreign ministers of Russia and Suriname had met recently in the margins of the UN General Assembly and that it had been agreed that the Surinamese Foreign Minister, Yldiz Deborah Pollack-Beighle, will visit Moscow later this month.

Russia is understood to be in advanced discussions with Suriname on deepening other aspects of their relationship. According to Mr Schetinin, a bilateral agreement signed in 2016 creates a basis on which closer trade and economic ties might be established. The two countries have also agreed cooperate within UNASUR, the Union of South American Nations which includes all South American nations other than French Guiana. In addition, he said, all visa restrictions are to be removed between both countries which will then make all of South America a visa-free space for Russian nationals.

Following the accreditation of a new Russian non-resident ambassador to Suriname, Sergey Marilyn, in the week of October 9, Russia indicated that it is willing to assist Suriname in healthcare and will undertake assessment of the country’s health care needs. Suriname is also understood to have encouraged Russia to open a mission in Paramaribo, the only capital in South America where it does not have one.

Russian interest in Suriname comes at a time when there have been indications of deepening Russian economic engagement with other CARICOM nations and the Latin America and Caribbean region more generally. Recently, Venezuela’s President, Nicolas Maduro, speaking about a forthcoming visit to Trinidad to sign an agreement to jointly explore the cross-border Loran-Manatee gas fields and ferry links between Venezuelan and Trinidadian ports said that he hoped to strengthen cooperation and development between Russia and Trinidad. His remarks follow recent meetings in Moscow between Venezuela’s Minister of Oil, Eulogio Del Pino, and Trinidad and Tobago’s Energy Minister, Franklin Khan in Moscow in the margins of a meeting of the Gas Exporting Companies Forum (GECF).

Russian interest in Grenada is also growing. Earlier this month the Grenada government confirmed, subject to quality tests the discovery of natural gas within the island’s territorial waters. The announcement followed exploratory activity by the Russian backed Global Petroleum Group which earlier this year was licensed to prospect for oil and gas offshore. Russia is separately in discussion with the Grenada government about scholarships, training opportunities, debt relief, the establishment of an embassy in the Russian Federation, and a visa waiver agreement.

At the other end of the region, Russia’s long-established relationship with Cuba continues to deepen large through state owned or state linked companies. Over the last year and following regular high-level exchanges, multiple large-scale projects are under discussion ranging from the complete rehabilitation of the Cuban railways system, to upgrading Cuba’s refineries, offshore oil exploration, helping develop Cuba’s defence manufacturing industries, and investments in manufacturing and assembly for the Latin America market.

There are also persistent reports that Venezuela is soon to conclude negotiations with Russia’s biggest state-owned oil company Rosneft for it to participate in several domestic and international PDVSA operations through an arrangement that could offset the possibility of a sovereign debt default by the Maduro government, address the country’s mounting debt to the Russian company, and indirectly guarantee the longevity of the PetroCaribe regional concessionary arrangement on oil. The reports follow recent discussions in Moscow between President Maduro and the Russian President Vladimir Putin, after which Mr Maduro indicated a strengthening of ties of cooperation between the two nations.

Russia’s other substantial economic involvement in the region is in bauxite and alumina in both Jamaica and Guyana where UC Rusal, the world second largest private aluminium and alumina producer operates bauxite and alumina complexes. Russia continues to have a military presence in the region related to its broader security interests and are occasionally connected to counter-narcotics exercises.

This is an extract from the Caribbean Council’s leading weekly editorially independent publication, Caribbean Insight, which provides in depth information on current economic, political and commercial developments in the Caribbean and news on events in Europe and the US that affect the region. Business people, academics, and those with a general interest in the Caribbean find it an invaluable tool for developing and maintaining knowledge and providing an insight into political, economic and commercial events in the region.

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Photo Credit: Larry Koester, ‘Kremlin’, http://bit.ly/2B3jqMx, Flickr