Sunday, November 23, 2008

Flux in the BRIC

NYTimes | “Russia’s elites, including President Medvedev, look on China’s rising diplomatic and economic successes in Latin America and in Africa with envy,” said Stephen Kotkin, the director of Russia studies at Princeton University. “They also perceive an opportunity, much exaggerated, to send the U.S. a message in its supposed backyard.”

But Mr. Medvedev faces a hard sell in the region. In Cuba there are lingering suspicions over Russian intentions, as the Cuban economy collapsed when the Soviets withdrew in the 1990s, as well as a reluctance to alienate an incoming Obama administration that might push to end the trade embargo.

Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, which also places a high priority on relations with an Obama administration, wants to engage Russia not as a source of weapons or military assistance, but as an equal partner.

“We are not interested in buying defense products off the shelf,” said Roberto Mangabeira Unger, Brazil’s minister of strategic affairs and the architect of a new military strategy set to be officially unveiled in December.

“Unlike other South American countries we don’t go around buying things, and we are not interested in some kind of balance-of-power politics to contain the United States,” said Mr. Mangabeira Unger, a former Harvard law professor who taught Mr. Obama when he was at Harvard Law School. “We have friendly relations with the United States, and with the incoming administration intend to make them even more friendly.”

By contrast in Venezuela, itself battered by falling oil prices, Mr. Medvedev can expect a warm welcome. President Hugo Chávez has long sought closer ties, traveling to Russia seven times and forging deals to buy more than $4 billion in arms. Until recently, however, Russia showed little interest in expanding ties with Venezuela beyond weapons sales and a handful of energy deals.