Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Russia in Latin America: A Strategic Analysis

Academic journal article Prism : a Journal of the Center for Complex Operations

Russia in Latin America: A Strategic Analysis

Article excerpt

In recent years, Russian President Vladimir Putin has hardly veiled his desire to lead Russia back to superpower status. Putin's rhetoric emphasizes a multipolar world where the United States is no longer the dominant power, and his actions present Russian global leadership as a viable alternative to the United States'. Increasingly visible is the multifaceted nature of Russia's tactics for undermining U.S. power projection in multiple theaters, including Latin America. Leaders of the U.S. defense and intelligence communities have responded to Russia's growing global assertiveness by repeatedly singling out Russia as the primary military and strategic threat to the United States, particularly following Russia's recent annexation of Crimea and hostile activities in Ukraine.

In March 2015, Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper labeled Russia a "threat actor" and an example of a nation where "the nexus among organized crime, state actors, and business blurs the distinction between state policy and private gain."1 The 2015 National Military Strategy presented by the Joint Chiefs of Staff noted that Russia "has repeatedly demonstrated that it does not respect the sovereignty of its neighbors and it is willing to use force to achieve its goals. Russia's military actions are undermining regional security directly and through proxy forces."2

The accuracy of these assessments of Russian intentions and capabilities can be documented throughout many parts of the world. Yet this lens is seldom used in analyzing the burgeoning Russian diplomatic and military presence in Latin America - particularly in Central America. The formal Russian state presence is accompanied by state business ventures, soft power overtures, increasing Russian organized criminal activity, and the reactivation of Cold War proxy networks. While seldom part of the strategic analysis of the new Russian state, there is clear evidence that Latin America, considered an area of vital interest to the United States, is now an area of intense Russian state interest and activity.

As General John Kelly, commander of the U.S. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) noted in recent Congressional testimony, "it has been over three decades since we last saw this type of high-profile Russian presence" in Latin America.3 In his command's 2015 Posture Statement Kelly added that:

Periodically since 2008, Russia has pursued an increased presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales, counterdrug agreements, and trade. Under President Putin, however, we have seen a clear return to Cold War tactics. As part of its global strategy, Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere. . .While these actions do not pose an immediate threat, Russia's activities in the hemisphere are concerning and underscore the importance of remaining engaged with our partners.4

This is not to say that Russia in Latin America presents an imminent military threat to the United States. But Russian officials have been brazen about their desire to undermine and confront the United States in the Western Hemisphere, its main sphere of influence, to counter what Russia perceives as U.S. interference in Russia's border territories. In the current Latin American context Russia has made greater progress toward their goals than is usually acknowledged.

While the U.S. position remains preeminent - due to geographic proximity, cultural ties, and trade ties - it is eroding more quickly than is often understood. Also eroding, as Russia and other extra-regional actors such as China and Iran strengthen the hands of a bloc of radical populist governments, is the longstanding U.S. goal of establishing functioning democracies under the rule of law with stable economic growth. The U.S. is simultaneously facing a concerted effort by a significant alliance of Latin American governments to erase any trace of U. …

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