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Russia and Latin America: Geopolitical Considerations



medvedev Cuba President

Russia’s President Dmitry Medvedev waves
as he walks with Cuba’s President

Posted by Cristina Avram,

Although geographically distant from Russia, Latin America is one of the main priorities of the Russian government’s foreign policy. Russian authorities have come very close, in fact, to some Latin American regimes.  Actually Russia’s spectacular return to this region is part of its overall strategy to strengthen Russia’s interests and position in the world scene. 

Russia’s recent tendency to influence Latin America started in 1997. The collapse of the Soviet Union has precipitated the collapse of the Russian Federation’s influence in South America, as succesor of the Soviet Union. This has determined the Prime Minister Evgheni Primakov to start reviving Russia’s position in Latin America as a global power in 1997. Since then, Russia’s objectives have remained remarkably consistent, as  policy instruments: trade, arms sales political support for those governments who were trying to escape USA’s influence.

In Latin America, Moscow takes full advantage of the open anti-american climate and the diplomatic tensions with Washington (anti-missile shield, NATO’s expansion, the Georgian crisis, the presence of the U.S. Sixth Fleet in the Black Sea) to implant itself in the American sphere of influence. Thus, Russians reply to U.S. intrusion in the Caucasian and Central Asian region. Actually, Russia wants to gain the loyalty of new economic partners by making bilateral agreements in the aeronautics, energy and military sphere.


In Brazil, Russian diplomacy favors, above all, increasing trade and expanding energy, aerospacial and military cooperation. Only in 2008 trade of the two BRIC countries exceeded $ 7.3 billion. The dynamics of the Russian-Brazilian partnership is explained mainly by converging interests in several strategic areas. In the energy sector, Moscow is determined to associate itself with Brazil to exploit Brazilian oil and gas deposits. On the other hand, Brazil wants to purchase Russian equipment for their hydroelectric plants which are under construction, as well for developing their booming rail network. In aerospace, the Russian Federal Space Agency (Rocosmos) signed an agreement with the Brazilian Space Agency (AEB) to implement a cooperation and development mechanism for ‘Glonass’, the Russian system for satellite global navigation,  competitor of the American ‘GPS’ and future European ‘Galileo’. Russian military-industrial complex hopes actually to sell to Brazilians military equipment (weapons, helicopters, bombs, planes, submarines) that the country needs to strengthen its military power. In addition, relanching the Brazilian nuclear program also opens the path for stronger cooperation between Moscow and Brazil in civil and military nuclear.


With Cuba, relationships were initially damaged after the fall of Soviet Union in 1991. In the world after the Cold War, Havana didn’t hope to matter anymore to Moscow. The comming to power of Vladimir Putin has changed this geopolitical situation. Since Cuba was still suffering because of U.S. embargo established in 1962, the Russian President was personally involved in the Cuban affairs, supporting the lifting of economic sanctions by the UN, on one hand, and by providing financial credit for many areas, on the other hand. In November 2008, Moscow offered Havana a loan of $ 335 million for the purchase of Russian equipment for the oil, mining and transport sectors. In early 2009, the two countries have signed new agreements. These agreements mainly concern the food and fishing industries, cooperation in education, scientific research, sports and tourism. This Russian-Cuban dialogue allows Moscow to have guaranteed new markets for its products, to expand its influence on the castrist regime and to maintain its presence here, at less than 300 km from the U.S. coastline.


Venezuela is the key element in the Russian-Latin-American game. The parallel anti-american positions of Russia and Venezuela are already known: Russia out of interest and willingness to become a respected power like USSR used to be, Venezuela by Chavez’s ideology and willingness to impose himself as a lider in his country as well throughout the South-American continent. For the anti-imperialist sentiment is growing rapidly in an over-exploited Latin-America by the ‘yankee’ ‘s interests for so long.

Caracas is a reliable ally for Moscow in the new energy cold war that is foreshadowing. First producer of gas from South America and fifth worldwide producer of oil, Venezuela incites the Russian gas and oil appetite. In November of 2008, Russian companies Lukoil and Gazprom signed an agreement with the PDVSA oil group which was targeting the exploitation of oil in Orinoco, a river located in the East of the country, hoping to produce more than 1 million barrels per day. If this project materializes, we’ll be talking about the most powerfull alliance in the world of oil. Far from being limited to hydrocarbons, Russian strategy in Venezuela is making profit from Venezuela’s chavist government military ambitions. Between 2005 and 2007 Caracas signed with Moscow 12 contracts for arms worth 4.4 billion dollars, buying 24 Sukhoi fighter jets, 50 fighter helicopters and 100,000 Kalachnicov rifles. In 2010 Caracas obtained from Moscow a loan of $ 2.2 million to buy T-72 tanks and an undisclosed number of S-300 air-defense bombs, in 2011 negociating a new agreement with Russia to get a $ 4 billion loan, half of which is destined to equip and modernize the armed forces. Also, with Chavez’s visit to Moscow in 2010, relations with Russia have been strengthened, Russian President saying that Russia may sell equipment and machinery to Venezuela, and Venezuela might sell agricultural products to Russia. Medvedev claimed that Russia is ready to take part in various regional organizations and Latin American forums which requires a joint task approach such as terrorism, transnational crime, drug trafficking, environmental issues, sustainable development and economic aid. Furthermore, Medvedev considers that Venezuela ‘has acted like a true friend’ when it followed Russia and recognized former Georgian republics South Ossetia and Abkhazia at the last visit Chavez had made to Moscow in 2009.

In the civil nuclear area, Russians and Venezuelans have signed a bilateral agreement on controlled thermonuclear synthesis and safety of nuclear installations and radiation sources. The nuclear cooperation is also accompanied by a military cooperation. On September 10, 2008, two Russian bombers capable of carrying nuclear bombs landed at Palo Negro in Venezuela to participate in joint manuevers with Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian armed forces. In December 2008, a similar training of naval forces of the two countries, called “VenRus”, took place in the Caribbean. These military exercises employed 2,300 people of the Russian and Venezuelan fleet, 3 frigates, an amphibious vehicle and 8 patrol vessels. This strategic cooperation serves Moscow’s interests who wants to propose an alternative to the American presence in the region.

In fact, the geopolitical situation between these two countries illustrates how the relationship between Russia and Latin America becomes more important day by day, not only because of the weapons sold in the region, but also because of the diplomatic resources that Moscow had used in South America. The continously cold relationship between Venezuela and the U.S. in addition to Washington’s controversial relationship with Moscow will contribute further to the substantial strengthening of military and diplomatic ties between Russia and Venezuela. This possibility can’t make U.S. happy. The new situation facing Washington is that Russia will be a growing factor when it comes to leftist governments in the region, who want autonomy from U.S. policy makers, and which Washington considers dangerous, but that Moscow considers to be very good.

In conclusion, we can say that the policy led by Moscow in Latin America is the product of old aspirations: to establish Russia the status of a great power and of a country which promotes a multipolar world; in fact, it’s more of a closing towards USA than an economic policy with strategic objectives.

Translated in English from Romanian language, Original Article appeared on our Partner website.

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The History Question: Is It Better to Remember or to Forget?



Years ago, a philosopher by the name of George Santayana said a phrase that fuels many debates to this day. His original saying is “those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it”, although, many sources now present it as variations of “those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”. The latter definitely has more substance to it in the light of the ongoing debate about how much history we should be learning and how.

Is It Better to Remember or Forget About the Past?

On one hand, Santayana was right. Learning about the past is essential in order for people to progress. One also shouldn’t overlook the importance of remembrance and paying respects to the dead, both those who pushed the progress forward and those who have fallen victims to major tragedies that could and should have been averted.

The main argument in favor of learning about the past is that its knowledge is necessary for preventing the same thing happening in the future. Having it one can see the signs and stop the tragedy before it gains momentum.

That’s sound in theory, but the reality is always different. For example, today people are surely forgetting, and the much-critiqued education system is only partially at fault here. Even the greatest of tragedies weren’t spared this fate. It’s a proven fact that about two-thirds of millennials today don’t know about the Holocaust, and this number is surely greater for generations that follow them. In the school history course, the subject of one of the greatest disasters in history is barely touched, if touched at all. And outside of a history classroom, one can only see small, but terrifying, glimpses of it at the Holocaust Museum and other museums that rarely attract many visitors. And now we are witnessing a rise of antisemitic crime.

Are these two facts related? Does the lack of awareness about the horrors done in the name of Aryan supremacy contribute to the fact that right-winged extremists seem to be gaining popularity again?

It does, but by how much? That is the question that no one can truly answer.

And what about other genocides? The Holocaust had the highest death toll, but it was far from the only genocide in history. And quite a few of those happened after World War 2 and before the memory of the atrocities against the Jews began to fade. This means that while forgetting history is a factor, it’s not the deciding factor in its repeats.

But what is that thing responsible for the reenactment of past mistakes and tragedies?

Learning. This is the important thing that is most often overlooked when citing Santayana’s famous saying. It’s not enough to learn about the past and know the facts of things that happened. It’s important to learn from those facts and put in place protections that will prevent them from happening again. And this is something that humanity, as a whole, has yet to succeed in doing.

Dwelling in the Past Can Be Just As Bad

One also shouldn’t forget that there is such a thing as “too much history”. The Bosnian War and genocide that happened there in the 1990s is a vivid example of how the past can be exploited by political powers. Used as a part of propaganda, which fueled the war, history can become a weapon in the hands of those who want to use it for their own goals.

And this is what humans have been doing since the dawn of time. There is always someone who will use any means necessary to achieve whatever it is they wish. This results in wars and genocides, and hundreds of smaller but no less devastating tragedies.

Therefore, the problem isn’t whether people should be learning history but human nature itself. Perhaps, teaching this can help fix this fundamental flaw and truly stop the worst of the past from repeating.

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Is there such thing as cyberwar?

Alexandra Goman



Two decades have passed after Arquilla and Ronfeldt in 1993 warned the public about an upcoming. They were also the first to introduce a concept of cyberwar and give an elaborated opinion. They referred to a conduct and preparation of military operations using information-related principles and also invoked a link between intelligence (the collection of information for political or military purpose) and cyber operations. Now, the scale of intelligence has significantly expanded.

Interestingly, before cyber appeared, there was a radio which was used for intelligence purposes and was weaponized later in the World War II. From that time on, electronic warfare became standard characteristics of a modern conflict. Despite this, there is a key difference between electronic warfare and a cyber one. Traditional electronic warfare aimed to guide, target, or protect weapons systems (Ibid., p. 24). In contrast, cyber makes today’s weapons and military systems smarter but also more vulnerable for an attack.

At the moment everyone still wonders what the whole idea of cyberwar means. There is no accepted interpretation or definition. Furthermore, many experts even say that such war does not even exist (or cannot be referred to the notion of “war”). Perhaps, it is due to the fact that a war in cyberspace has not yet happened. To make it clear, cyber capability has not actually killed anyone and a code has not been used as the use of force.

Similarly, the dangers of a nuclear bomb were recognized only after its use, the same goes to the notion of “nuclear war”. Although there have been many cyberattacks, none of them have been raised to the level of war because none of them, in fact, caused the level of damage which could be adhered to the level of a large-scale conflict.

Cyber warfare has derived from different aspects of conventional warfare and traditional definitions of war. It usually involves organized units within nation-state in offensive or defensive operations which are part of a war or a conflict.

In general, since cyber study is relatively new, there are many competing terms and definitions to explain cyber phenomenon. The following concepts – the revolution in military affairs, electronic warfare, information warfare, and cyber war – have been all offered to describe the new emerging area of conflict. Experts do not agree on any particular term, more often using different notions when talking about cyber issues. Nonetheless, it is vital to understand the facts of the 21st century similarly to the need that rose along with the invention of atomic reaction. A major concern now is no longer weapons of mass destruction, but weapons of mass disruption. (2009, p. 47).

One of the central elements to define a cyberwar, is that it has to meet the same criteria, applied to any other type of war. Vandalism or spying is an act of crime, but they do not start wars. So, assumingly, there has to be physical destruction and casualties in order to declare a war.

Therefore, a cyberwar should have real world damage similar to a conventional war. For this matter, it should probably take place in a digital world. What is not clear, however, is whether it should be fought exclusively in cyberspace or it can accompany a conventional attack too. This aspect is quite interesting, because cyberattacks can easily be used in combination with a kinetic attack and can multiply the force and power of the attacker.

In this case, it does not make sense to create a new term “cyberwar” as it falls down under the same definition of war. It is the same example when aerial bombings supported the attacks on the ground during the World War I, but in the end we called it a war, not a particular type of war. Consequently, cyber introduction resembles more a revolution in military affairs, rather that a new emerging type of warfare.

What is clear, though, is that the difference in definitions complicates the matters of regulating cyberspace and prevents achieving a common ground on cyber issues and/or developing new treaties and agreements between the states. So far there is no international agreement on the cyber principles, despite some attempts of the states to engage into negotiations (Budapest Conference on Cyberspace, the World Conference on International Telecommunications). There is, however, the Convention on Cybercrime, the first international agreement that addresses compute crime, adopted by the Council of Europe. Interestingly enough, Russia (as a part of the Council) neither signed nor ratified the agreement, whereas US (not part of the Council) recognized it and ratified it.

Apart from these difficulties in defining cyberwar, there has been a hyperbolic use of the word itself, mostly by media and tabloids (e.g. The Washington Post, “We are at cyberwar and we are our own enemy”; The New York Times, “How to prevent Cyberwar”; Zdnet, “Cyberwar: a guide to the frightening future of online conflict”; Komsomolskaya Pravda, “Are we expecting the First World Cyberwar?” etc.). They do not usually give any concrete information but are eager to use this term and apply it randomly to different cases just because it sounds good.  All in all, uninformed public use of the word has enormously contributed into the heat surrounding cyber implications.

Futher, cyberattacks are too often discussed equivalently, regardless of its impact. In this sense, minor cases like ransomware or phishing might be raised to the level of an armed attack (especially if they affect multiple computers worldwide). Yet, these cases are good examples of cybercrime, and crime is not a war. When individuals engage into this type of activity, they do not engage in a war.  The same goes for espionage in cyberspace. Catching a spy on one’s territory will certainly put pressure on bilateral relations, but it would not start a war.

This exaggeration of cyberattacks can be explained through securitization theory. The notion offered by the Copenhagen Security School describes how a certain concept can be politicized and securitized to the extent that it becomes a threat to national security (See Buzan, 2006).

To conclude, it should be mentioned that there is no guidance for the conduct of “cyberwar”.  There are no internationally agreed definitions and, to that extent, the whole idea of cyberwar so far seems unrealistic. At this moment technology is not sophisticated enough to ensure a military conduct entirely in cyberspace. Besides, any cyberattack of such scale would presumably result in a physical destruction, which consequently might provoke a conventional retaliation attack. This, in result, would cause a war we know for years, so there is no need to introduce a particular type of war. On another note, using cyber operations to support a conventional war and/or conflict is the way to go, but in this case it is just a revolution and modernization in military affairs.

I would be interested to hear your opinion about that in the comments below.

For further information see:

1)    A movie “War Games” (1983)

2)    Arquilla, J. and Ronfeldt, D. (1993). The Cyberwar is Coming! RAND Corporation, [online] Available at:

3)    Cetron, M. J. and Davies, O. (2009). Ten critical trends for cyber security. The Futurist, 43(5), pp. 40–49.

4)    Stiennon, R. (2015). There Will Be Cyberwar: How The Move To Network-Centric War Fighting Has Set The Stage For Cyberwar. Michigan: IT-Harvest Press.

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On the issue of cyber security of critical infrastructures

Alexandra Goman



There is a lot of talk in regards to cyberattacks nowadays. A regular user worries about its data and tries to secure by all means necessary. Yet, no one really thinks whether the power plants or nuclear facilities are well secured. Everyone assumes that they should be secured.

The reality, however, differs. According to many reports of cyber security companies, there is an increased risk of cyberattacks, targeting SCADA and ICS. Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) is used for the systems that control physical equipment – power plants, oil and gas pipelines, they can also control or monitor processes such as heating or energy consumption. Along with Industrial Control Systems (ICS) they control critical elements of industrial automation processes. Exploiting vulnerabilities of critical infrastructures can lead to the consequences of unimaginable scale. (These types of attacks are actually used in a cyberwar scenarios and hypothetical military settings).

Source: Fortinet, 2015

There are many reasons why these systems are vulnerable for attacks. First of all, the main problem is that these systems have an old design; they were built before they were connected to any networks. They were later configured to connect via Ethernet, and that’s when they became a part of a larger infrastructure. The more advanced SCADA system is becoming, the more vulnerabilities are these to exploit. The updates should be regular and on time. Secondly, there is a lack of monitoring. New devices that are connected allow remote monitoring, but not all devices have the same reporting capabilities. There are also authentication issues (weak passwords, authentication process), however, this is supposed to restrict unauthorized access (See Common SCADA Threats and Vulnerabilities at Patriot Technologies, Inc. Online).

In these scenarios, there is no certainty to know what is going to backfire because of the complexity of communications and power networks. This is also called a cascading effect of attacks. Not knowing who is connected to who may cause major disruptions. The example of the US East Coast power blackout in 2003 proves this point (a failure in one element of the grid spreads across other electrical networks). However, given this, it is also complicated for an attacker to predict consequences, if an attack executed. This kind of attack can easily escalate into more serious conflict, so it might not be the best option for states to employ such methods.

Moreover, there is a risk to damage a critical infrastructure unintentionally. That is if a virus or worm did not intend to target SCADA but happen to spread there as well. The uncontrollability of the code may seriously impair the desire to use it, especially when it comes to nation-states. For instance, in 2003 a worm penetrated a private network of the US Davis-Besse Nuclear Power Station and disabled a safety monitoring system for 5 hours. In 2009, French fighter jets could not take off because they were infected with a virus.

Indeed, a scenario where an attacker gains access to a SCADA system and manipulates with the system, causing disruptions on a large-scale, might be hypothetical but it does not make it less possible in the future. However, the only known case so far, which affected an industrial control centre, is Stuxnet. It did not result in many deaths, yet it drew attention of the experts on the plausibility of future more sophisticated attacks. These potential upcoming attacks might cause the level of destruction, comparable to that of a conventional attack, therefore resulting in war.

Further reading:

Bradbury, D. (2012). SCADA: a Critical Vulnerability. Computer Fraud & Security, 4, p. 11-14.

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