Exiles: Putin Could Offer Trump a Deal on Cuba
Putin seeking to take pressure off deteriorating Russian economy
BY: Reuben F. Johnson
December 6, 2016 11:12 am
Post-Fidel Castro Havana may lose its long-time protector and guarantor
of security, Russia, according to Cuba-watchers in Miami's community of
exiles and dissidents.
They predict Russian President Vladimir Putin will offer the incoming
Trump administration a free hand to deal with Cuba as it sees fit in
return for the United States recognizing Moscow's invasion and
annexation of the Ukrainian region of Crimea.
The assessment comes from former Cuban officials who fled the island
nation under the rule of Fidel Castro. They said Putin is seeking to use
the recent passing of Castro as an opportunity to take the pressure off
a deteriorating domestic economic situation back in Russia.
The first indicator was the naming of the Russian government officials
who led the delegation to attend Fidel Castro's funeral, said one former
Cuban official now living in Miami. The two most senior members from
Moscow's political order dispatched to Havana were Vyacheslav Volodin,
speaker of the State Duma, the lower house of Russia's parliament, and
Deputy Prime Minister Dmitri Rogozin.
Naming Rogozin as one of the two most important representatives to the
funeral ceremony "is almost an insult to the Cubans," said a Russian
political analyst in Moscow. "Rogozin is regarded by many as more of a
clown than anything else, and he is most famous for a series of
ridiculous and bombastic public statements that have no anchor in reality."
"It is clear that Moscow wanted to keep the delegation low-key so as to
not in any way antagonize Trump by having a senior Russian official like
PM [Dmitry] Medvedev or Putin himself deliver a eulogy that lambasts
Washington with a lot of inflammatory rhetoric," said a former Cuban
defense official now living in the Miami area. "This unusual reticence
to engage in the usual anti-U.S. tirade accompanies some other
indicators that Putin needs to lay the groundwork for this 'trade' where
the U.S. gets to do whatever it wants with Cuba and he in return gets a
blank check for Ukraine."
Putin stayed in Moscow during the funeral. His official spokesman
announced that the Russian leader was preoccupied with preparing a
speech for the president's upcoming annual address to the Federal
Assembly—a joint session of both houses of the national parliament. But
analysts in Moscow told the Free Beacon that nothing about this event
would normally preclude Putin from still attending Castro's funeral.
Instead, Putin is preoccupied with the deteriorating domestic situation
For years under Putin, Russia has engaged in a series of land-grabbing
invasions of neighboring nations. Russia is now bordered by "frozen
conflict" zones that it either claims as its own or are occupied by
Russian armed forces.
These "statelets" cost Russia an estimated $5 billion per year—a
significant drag on the Russian state's operations. Meanwhile, Russia's
economy continues to spiral down while both the value of the Russia
ruble and the oil prices that the state budgets depend on for revenue
are at record lows. These conditions show little to no chance of
improving any time soon.
A crisis of public confidence in Putin's rule could very well be in the
making. Recent economic data shows that since 2014 the size of Russia's
middle class has declined by more than 16 percent, putting an additional
14 million people into the ranks of the poor. The number of people who
consider themselves middle class has likewise fallen from 61 percent two
years ago to 51 percent this year, while real household incomes have
decreased by 7 percent since last year.
Much of this decline has been blamed on countersanctions put in place by
Putin after the United States and the European Union imposed embargoes
on Russia over the invasion of Crimea. The Russian president banned food
products from Europe and Ukraine in response to various U.S. and EU
travel bans on Russian officials, freezes of Russian assets, and Russian
banks being barred from numerous international financial markets.
Putin needs a "relief valve" that can reduce Russia's external financial
obligations and a lifting of sanctions if the country's economic
situation is ever going to improve, said Russian political experts. They
told Western news outlets that these sanctions are endangering Putin's
chances for reelection in 2018. Some Kremlin insiders have recently
floated snap presidential elections—in order to give the former KGB
lieutenant colonel another six-year term now while his reelection
prospects are still positive.
"Proposing this Cuba-for-Ukraine trade is a sign that Putin is running
out of options and running out of time," said the Cuban defense official
in exile. "And he is just hoping that the Trump team would be naïve
enough to take him up on this deal."
Source: Exiles: Vladimir Putin Could Offer Donald Trump a Deal on Cuba -