Posted by Gilmour Poincaree on November 21, 2008


MOSCOW — President Dmitry Medvedev embarks this week on a Latin American tour crafted to slake MEDVEDEV'S LATIN TOURRussia’s thirst for respect as a serious global power and carry its message of US defiance to Washington’s doorstep.

Medvedev’s four-nation trip kicks off Friday in Peru, where he will meet at the weekend with leaders of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum, including outgoing US President George W. Bush and Chinese President Hu Jintao.

The Kremlin leader then heads to Brazil to meet its leftist President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva before traveling to Venezuela, whose maverick President Hugo Chavez is famous for his virulent broadsides against Washington.

For the grand finale, Medvedev rounds off his tour in Cuba, the flagship Cold War ally of the Soviet Union during the Cold War and the United States’ communist arch-foe in the western hemisphere since the late 1950s.

The Russian navy, keen to prove that reports of its death a decade ago were exaggerated, will flex its muscles under Washington’s nose by conducting joint maneuvers with Venezuela in the Caribbean Sea, officials said.

The extensive trip expands a Cold War-era strategy revived by Medvedev’s mentor Vladimir Putin of raising Russia’s profile globally and taking rivalry with the United States to Washington’s doorstep in Latin America, analysts said.

But it also comes as Russia has taken a battering in the global economic crisis, while calls by the new Kremlin leader for a reshaping of international financial and military structures have met little response.

The tour will demonstrate Russia’s “increasing interest in expanding its global influence, particularly on the continent Washington believes to be a traditional sphere of American influence,” said Yevgeny Volk, Moscow representative of the US Heritage Foundation, a research center.

In comments to RIA Novosti on Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov insisted Russian ties with South America and the Caribbean region were not aimed at “third countries” — a clear reference to the United States.

But Russian media have portrayed the naval exercises and recent Russian air force exercises in Venezuela as a direct response to US plans to extend a missile shield close to Russian borders in central Europe.

Venezuela’s purchase of a slew of Russian weapons have already prompted concern on the part of neighboring Colombia and the United States about the dangers of a South American arms race.

Russia’s Kommersant newspaper has reported that negotiations will be pursued during Medvedev’s visit on new Venezuelan arms purchases from Russia, possibly including air defense systems and fighter jets.

His visit to Cuba is sure to revive memories of Cold War rivalry, although the daily Kommersant reported in August that Cuba had reacted badly to Russian suggestions the island might host Russian bomber planes.

Hailing warm bilateral relations this month, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said that defense ties with Russia were aimed at “reinforcing the defensive potential of Cuba.”

Amid the Russian-US tensions, Medvedev’s encounter with Bush in Peru may prove chilly.

Moscow has all but written off coming to terms with the outgoing US administration on its missile defense plans, which Washington insists do not threaten Russia and are directed against “rogue states” such as Iran.

As well as pursuing military ties, Medvedev’s tour is sure to be aimed at expanding economic ties with South America, where Russian energy firms Gazprom, Lukoil and the British-Russian joint venture TNK-BP have been pushing projects in Venezuela.

But analysts remain sceptical about Russia’s goals in both Latin America and Asia.

Melbourne-based Asia specialist Damien Kingsbury said that Russia, despite its vast territory in the far east, was not seen as a significant Asian power and had damaged its cause by its military surge into Georgia in August.

Russia’s alliance with China remains “short-term”, said Kingsbury, of Deakin University, adding that after the August war, “states in the Asia-Pacific region would view Russia with a degree more caution.”

Reflecting on Russia’s dependence on energy exports to finance its ambitions, Volk concluded: “With the decrease in oil prices it will be much more difficult for Russia to play the role of superpower.”



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