January 23, 2022

Russia Suggests Military Deployment to Venezuela, Cuba if Tensions With U.S. Remain High – The Wall Street Journal

Russia’s deputy foreign minister said talks with the U.S. over the security situation in Ukraine had stalled and suggested that Moscow could dispatch a military deployment to Venezuela and Cuba, as the Kremlin seeks to pressure Washington to meet its demands to halt Western military activity that Russia claims poses a threat.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said Thursday that Moscow couldn’t exclude dispatching “military infrastructure” to Venezuela or Cuba if tensions with Washington—which have soared in recent weeks over a huge buildup of Russian troops on Ukraine’s border—continue to rise.

“I don’t want to confirm anything, I will not rule out anything…. Depends on the actions of our American colleagues,” Mr. Ryabkov told privately owned Russian-language television network RTVi in an interview Thursday in Moscow. Mr. Ryabkov said he saw no immediate grounds for fresh talks with the U.S., after several rounds of negotiations this week yielded little progress in defusing the crisis in Ukraine.

In Washington later, White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said U.S. and European officials would confer in the coming days, but that no dates have been set for further discussions with Russia.

“I’m not going to respond to bluster in the public commentary that wasn’t raised in the discussions at the Strategic Stability Dialogue,” Mr. Sullivan said of Mr. Ryabkov’s remarks about a potential deployment in Latin America, referring to talks Monday between U.S. and Russian officials in Geneva.

“If Russia were to move in that direction, we would deal with it decisively,” he said.

A military buildup along the Ukrainian border is further straining ties between Russia and the U.S., after clashes over cybercrime, expulsions of diplomats and a migrant crisis in Belarus. WSJ explains what is deepening the rift between Washington and Moscow. Photo Composite/Video: Michelle Inez Simon

The remarks from the senior U.S. and Russian officials follow several rounds of talks this week between the West and Russia over the military buildup on the border with Ukraine. Moscow has sent more than 100,000 troops there, claiming the troops are on a military exercise. That has triggered fears in Ukraine and the West that Russian President Vladimir Putin intends to invade Ukraine or is generating a crisis to exact security concessions from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Russia is demanding a halt to NATO’s expansion, notably into Ukraine; curtailment of the alliance’s ties with Ukraine and parts of the former Soviet Union; and restrictions on military deployments on the territory of the alliance’s Eastern European members.

Western officials have rejected those demands, saying countries are free to associate with any countries they choose.

On Thursday, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-country grouping that helped to foster peace during the Cold War since its founding in the 1970s, discussed the Ukraine situation. The talks followed a U.S.-Russia meeting in Geneva on Monday and a NATO-Russia gathering in Brussels on Wednesday.

The OSCE is the only security-focused forum in which the key players in the current crisis—Russia, Ukraine, the U.S. and the Europeans—all have a seat at the table. That allows Washington to bring Ukraine in on discussions about it. The U.S. has promised not to make decisions on Ukraine’s security without Kyiv’s presence.

A Ukrainian soldier in the country’s Donetsk region on Monday.

Photo: Andriy Dubchak/Associated Press

Russia’s representative to the OSCE, Alexander Lukashevich, said that this week’s discussions had been “really disappointing,” with the U.S., NATO and other OSCE countries not providing the “very substantial, in-depth” response to Russia’s proposals that Moscow had expected.

Russia’s foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, said Thursday that Moscow was expecting the U.S. and NATO to respond in writing to the Russian security proposals soon. “We still hope that the promises made in Geneva and Brussels will be kept; this is the promise to put U.S. and NATO proposals on paper,” he said.

The three rounds of talks failed to resolve the crisis, and with prospects for further talks uncertain, Mr. Sullivan reiterated that the U.S. and its European allies had offered Russia two paths forward: Further diplomacy or confrontation.

The Biden administration is prepared to discuss limits on intermediate-range missiles in Europe, as well as reciprocal restrictions on the scope of military exercises on the continent, U.S. officials have said. But if Russia sends troops across the Ukrainian border, Western officials are eyeing significant financial punishments and targeted technology sanctions, according to people familiar with the matter.

“The United States and our European allies and partners are prepared for multiple different eventualities,” Mr. Sullivan said Thursday. Those are “serious and substantive” talks at the negotiating table or a “clear, effective, forceful” response to Russian aggression.

“We’re ready either way,” he said.


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While Russia has insisted it has no plans to invade Ukraine, Mr. Sullivan said Thursday “the threat of military invasion is high,” and that the U.S. held no illusions about the potential for conflict.

Asked to define the de-escalation that U.S. officials are seeking, Mr. Sullivan said that “it would involve them reducing the number of forces that they have deployed in aggressive postures toward Ukraine.”

Mr. Sullivan warned that the movement of the Russian military across the border into Ukrainian territory would trigger a U.S. and international response.

The national security adviser said that in the next 24 hours, the administration would provide additional details on Russia’s purported efforts to establish a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine.

“We saw this playbook in 2014,” Mr. Sullivan said, referring to Russia’s annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and fomenting of a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine. “They are preparing this playbook again.”

Mr. Ryabkov’s warnings about a possible military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela reflected Moscow’s longtime influence in those two countries, where authoritarian regimes have long been close to Russia.

Cuba was a Cold War partner to the Soviet Union, and in Venezuela, Mr. Putin has found an ally that has eagerly bought Russian military hardware, including Sukhoi fighter planes, while deploying Russian military advisers and technicians.

The deputy foreign minister’s comments were seen as a threat by Venezuela’s opposition movement, which failed in recent years to oust the president, Nicolás Maduro, partly because of Russia’s assistance.

In a speech, the opposition leader Juan Guaidó, whom the U.S. considers Venezuela’s rightful president, said the Russians have no right to deploy in Venezuela, “because it’s a sovereign country that should decide over its land, its actions and its defense.”

Mr. Guaidó added: “Does Russia want to make us part of a conflict that’s not even Latin American or make political propaganda with the stability of the region, of Latin America?”

The Cuban government hasn’t commented on Russia’s potential commitment of troops to the island. Requests for comment sent to the Cuban mission in Washington and to Cuba’s Foreign Ministry weren’t immediately answered.

Turmoil in Russian markets intensified on Thursday, with the ruble losing as much as 2.6% against the dollar and trading at 76.5 rubles to $1. Russian stocks and bonds also came under pressure.

“The market has suddenly gone from ignoring this to taking it very seriously,” said Paul McNamara, an emerging-market debt fund manager at GAM.

The U.S.-Russia Talks

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Corrections & Amplifications
Alexander Lukashevich is Russia’s representative to the OSCE. An earlier version of this article incorrectly spelled his last name as Lukashevic. An earlier version of this article also incorrectly spelled the last name of Sergei Ryabkov in two instances as Rybakov. (Corrected on Jan. 13)

Write to Ann M. Simmons at ann.simmons@wsj.com, Courtney McBride at courtney.mcbride@wsj.com and Laurence Norman at laurence.norman@wsj.com

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