There is reason for concern about Russian President Vladimir Putin's military activity in Latin America while the United States is focused on Ukraine, says former CIA analyst Lisa Ruth.
"Does anybody remember the Cuban missile crisis? It's right here. And certainly this hasn't happened in a very long time. The last time it happened was right after the Russians invaded Georgia, interestingly. They sent the same long-rage bombers and same ships to Latin America," she told Newsmax TV's John Bachman and J.D. Hayworth on "America's Forum" on Tuesday.
Ruth, a contributor to LIGNET, said Russia's move had several implications.
"One is very, very clearly Putin is saying to the United States, you want to mess in my backyard, I'm going to mess in yours. Very clear, again, right after the U.S. response in Ukraine.
"Second thing is, he's boosting his neighbors. He's got Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, longtime friends and allies. Venezuela is a huge buyer of weapons.
"The third thing is, this really expands Russia's military reach. Right now the only base they have outside of the former Soviet satellites is in Syria. If they have a long-range presence here, they are very well expanded."
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As for whether China's growing presence in Latin America could be another factor, Ruth said, "Certainly that's another message . . . China buying oil, but also heavily investing in natural resources, copper plants, for example, copper mines. Russia is sort of doing the same thing, what's here that maybe we can take advantage of."
Moscow can also benefit from exports to Latin America, Ruth noted.
"There's still a lot Russia can offer. Weapons, for one thing, and we talked about the three countries we've mentioned, but also Brazil. Brazil just bought helicopters. Brazil is also very interested in the Russian satellite system.
"So, it can offer that kind of thing, it can offer technology, it can offer training, it's not going to have the huge economic power, but there's a lot of bilateral trade that can go on, and these guys also would very much like to stick their finger in the U.S.'s eye as well," she said.
Asked what are the implications for the Panama Canal of a Chinese and Russian foothold in Central America , Ruth replied, "Nothing good. Keep in mind at the same time, Nicaragua is also now building this canal to challenge the Panama Canal. I mean, it's years and years away, but still, that does create that presence."
"Nicaragua certainly welcomes the Russians coming in. It creates a very difficult situation. Costa Rica is extremely concerned about the possibility of Russian naval ships being in Nicaragua. [Nicaraguan President Daniel ]Ortega is very happy to bully its Central American neighbors."
Given Russia's friendship with both Iran and Venezuela, Ruth said it is also conceivable that Moscow and Tehran could use the ongoing unrest in the Latin American country to try to establish a new client state there.
"[Venezuelan President Nicolas] Maduro adores both Iran and Russia. In fact, Maduro put Putin forward for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. You've got a situation where Maduro is anxious to allow in almost anyone who hates the U.S. There are a lot of questions about what is going to happen there. How is this all going to play out? I don't think that you can eliminate the fact that Russia is going to get a foothold or could have a foothold and Iran could come in as well," she said.
Ruth said, though, that it is too early to tell whether Russia will take its actions in Latin America farther than it did in 2008 after the invasion of Georgia.
"The difference is going to come when we see what they do and what they don't do. Last time, after the U.S. and the West sort of backed off after we ceded Georgia, then Russia said, oh, we didn't mean we were actually going to have bases there, we were just going to go visit there.
"The question is going to be how far this goes along. Do they actually establish a presence? Do they just have landing rights? Or do they really have a military facility there?" she explained.
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