Russia won’t rule out military deployment to Cuba, Venezuela

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he could ‘neither confirm nor rule out’ the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Latin America if the United States and its allies do not restrict their military activities at the gates of Russia.

“It all depends on the action of our American counterparts,” the minister said in an interview with Russian television channel RTVI, citing Russian President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take “military-technical measures” not specified if the United States and its allies failed to heed its demands.

Ryabkov led a Russian delegation in talks with the United States on Monday. The negotiations in Geneva and a related NATO-Russia meeting in Brussels came in response to a large Russian troop buildup near Ukraine that the West fears could be a prelude to an invasion.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, has denied plans to attack the neighboring country. The Kremlin reacted to the suggestion by accusing NATO of threatening its territory and demanding that the military alliance never welcome Ukraine or any other ex-Soviet nation as new members.

Washington and its allies firmly rejected the request this week as a non-starter, but the NATO and Russian delegations agreed to leave the door open for further talks on arms control and other issues designed to reduce the potential for hostilities.

A senior Biden administration official suggested on Thursday that Ryabkov’s statement on Cuba and Venezuela did not change Washington’s calculations.

“We are not going to respond to bluster. If Russia really started moving in this direction, we would deal with it decisively,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss ongoing negotiations.

Last month, Ryabkov compared current tensions over Ukraine with the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962 – when the Soviet Union deployed missiles in Cuba and the United States imposed a naval blockade of the island.

This crisis ended after US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed that Moscow would withdraw its missiles in return for Washington’s commitment not to invade Cuba and the withdrawal of US missiles from Turkey.

Putin, in seeking to reduce Western military activity in Eastern Europe, argued that NATO could use Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just five minutes. He warned that Russia could acquire a similar capability by deploying warships armed with the latest Zircon hypersonic cruise missile in neutral waters.

Shortly after his first election in 2000, Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-built military surveillance center in Cuba as he sought to improve ties with Washington. Moscow has stepped up contacts with Cuba in recent years as tensions with the United States and its allies mounted.

In December 2018, Russia briefly sent a pair of its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela in support of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro under Western pressure.

Ryabkov said the refusal of the United States and its allies to heed the main Russian demand for guarantees against the expansion of the alliance in Ukraine and other ex-Soviet countries makes it difficult to discuss the measures of strengthening of confidence that Washington says it is ready to negotiate.

“The United States wants to conduct a dialogue on certain elements of the security situation (…)” We have nowhere to retreat. “

Ryabkov described US and NATO military deployments and exercises near Russian territory as extremely destabilizing. He said US nuclear-capable strategic bombers were flying just 15 kilometers (9 miles) from the Russian border.

“We are constantly faced with provocative military pressure designed to test our strength,” he said, adding that he wondered how the Americans would react “if our bombers were flying within 15 kilometers of certain American bases on the East Coast or West Coast”.

This week’s high-stakes diplomacy has taken place as around 100,000 Russian troops with tanks and other heavy weaponry are massed near Ukraine’s eastern border. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov on Thursday rejected Western calls for the withdrawal of troops from regions close to Ukraine.

“It is hardly possible for NATO to dictate to us where we should move our armed forces on Russian territory,” he said.

Peskov said the talks this week had produced “positive elements and nuances”, but he called them failures overall.

“The talks were launched to receive specific answers to the main concrete issues that were raised, and disagreements remained on these main issues, which is bad,” Peskov said on a conference call with reporters.

He warned of a complete severance of US-Russian relations if proposed sanctions targeting Putin and other top civilian and military leaders are passed. The measures, proposed by Senate Democrats, would also target major Russian financial institutions if Moscow sent troops to Ukraine.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov also denounced the proposed sanctions as a reflection of US “arrogance”, adding that Moscow expected a written response to its US and NATO demands next week. in order to think about new measures.

Tensions around Ukraine and Russia’s demands on the West once again came to the table at a Thursday meeting of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Vienna.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau, who has assumed the post of Chairman-in-Office of the OSCE, noted in his opening speech that “the risk of war in the OSCE area is now greater than ever before in the last 30 years”.

Tensions over Ukraine were also high on the agenda for a meeting of European Union foreign ministers in Brest, France. Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod said it was important “for Putin to understand that military threats, the game he is playing, the way he is trying to take us back to the darkest days of the Cold War, are totally unacceptable ”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell reiterated that “any further aggression against Ukraine will have massive consequences and significant costs for Russia.” Borrell said the 27-nation bloc was providing 31 million euros ($35.5 million) in logistical assistance to Ukraine’s military and preparing to send a mission to help the country counter cyberattacks.

Russia seized the Crimean peninsula after the ousting of the pro-Moscow Ukrainian leader and in 2014 also backed a separatist insurgency in eastern Ukraine. More than 14,000 people have been killed in nearly eight years of fighting between Russian-backed rebels and Ukrainian forces. .

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Emily Schultheis reported from Vienna. Lorne Cook in Brussels and Colleen Long in Washington contributed to this report.

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