Russia’s Nuclear Visit to Cuba: Keep Calm and Carry On

Russia’s Nuclear Visit to Cuba: Keep Calm and Carry On
People watch Russian frigate Admiral Gorshkov as it enters Havana’s bay, Cuba, on June 12, 2024. (Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters)
Anders Corr
Updated:
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Commentary

As a Russian nuclear-capable frigate eased into its new berth in Cuba on June 12, it received a 21-cannon salute. It traveled along with a nuclear-powered submarine, the Kazan, making the new Cold War feel ever more real, ever closer, and ever more ominous. A nuclear monster emerges from the fog.
The Biden administration has attempted to downplay Russia’s saber-rattling just over 400 miles from Florida. But the threat is clear. The last time the Russian navy sent warships to Cuba on a regular annual visit was in 2020.
Downplaying the threat to the American public serves a purpose. The government wants to keep Americans calm in the face of nuclear brinkmanship by Moscow and Beijing meant to unnerve Americans and send them into retreat in places like Ukraine and Taiwan. The threats are real but uncertain. Nobody wants war with a nuclear-armed power, most especially the United States. But as in the 19th century, Moscow and Beijing were still willing to risk a war to get the territories they wanted. As in the 20th century, that war could end human life as we know it.

The United States has the world’s best military technology, even as Russia and China make major advances in hypersonic missiles. While China has a navy that outranks the United States in the number of hulls, the United States can still likely overmatch it when considering the entirety of its military, including the Air Force and Space Force, numerous global allies that host U.S. bases, and a growing number of military drones deployed by the U.S. Army and Marines, right up to Taiwan’s outlying islands and on the front lines in Ukraine.

Another U.S. strength is its economy, which, along with Europe and China, composes the world’s three most important. Thus, economic sanctions against Russia are a major point of leverage to end Moscow’s war in Ukraine and ultimately rewarm U.S.–Russia relations.

Most of the sanctions to date have been symbolic against Russian individuals and companies that can evade the measures by simply switching names or addresses. Sanctions against Russian oil and gas exports have hit Moscow but can still be evaded by selling to third countries like China and India at a discount of 9 percent, for example. They have been known to refine Russian raw materials and sell them in the U.S. and other global markets.

Beijing does its part for Moscow by increasing exports of dual-use technology so Russia can build the bombs, missiles, and drones raining down on Ukrainian cities.

Each alliance system responds to the other in what is becoming a deadly game of multiplayer chess. On June 12, the United States announced new secondary sanctions against individuals and businesses in not only Russia, where 4,500 entities are now sanctioned, but in China, Hong Kong, Turkey, and the United Arab Emirates, where entities persist in doing business with sanctioned Russian entities. Entities that finance or sell export-controlled items to Russia that rely on U.S. technology will be sanctioned.

This “long-arm” extension of U.S. law to jurisdiction over extraterritorial international actors will increase pressure on a range of enablers of Russian aggression, including key Chinese state-owned banks, semiconductor fabricators, and defense manufacturers.

They will all complain of U.S. “hegemonism,” but that is the price of causing global chaos. The policeman wakes and rallies his posse. The Biden administration is encouraging its allies, including the European Union and G7 countries that met in Italy on June 12, to mirror U.S. sanctions and exponentially increase their effect.

Will they be enough to stop China from exporting drone components to Russia? Likely not. Beijing is motivated to ensure Russia wins so that NATO countries stay distracted and weakened. The Chinese regime wants to maintain its access to cheap Russian energy and technology export markets and demonstrate that a Taiwan invasion has a chance of success. With NATO’s recent expansion, however, the strategy has clearly backfired.

Russia’s and China’s success depends on the shadow economy of their “axis of evil,” in which Russia can trade its energy for Chinese manufacturers, for example. To escape the most recent U.S. secondary sanctions, Beijing will initially finance and transport its illicit goods in a mostly clandestine manner.

The United States will then have its own options, including expanding sanctions to the entire Russian and Chinese economies, expanding sanctions beyond U.S.-branded technology to any defense-capable technology, and interdicting energy exports and dual-use military equipment at sea and elsewhere.

The more we pressure Russia and its partners, the more likely they are to either submit or escalate. We are ultimately engaged in brinkmanship, not of our choosing, up to and including the risk of nuclear war. This explains Russia’s nuclear visit to Cuba and the Biden administration’s reasonable attempt to downplay Kazan for the American public. Staying calm is the best response to the situation.

Views expressed in this article are opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.
Anders Corr has a bachelor's/master's in political science from Yale University (2001) and a doctorate in government from Harvard University (2008). He is a principal at Corr Analytics Inc., publisher of the Journal of Political Risk, and has conducted extensive research in North America, Europe, and Asia. His latest books are “The Concentration of Power: Institutionalization, Hierarchy, and Hegemony” (2021) and “Great Powers, Grand Strategies: the New Game in the South China Sea)" (2018).
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