The commencement of the United Nation’s Climate Talks in Paris on November 30 provided an opportune venue for Russia’s president Vladimir Putin to forge alliances with Latin American leaders.
The meeting provided Russia with an opportunity to ease the pressure on the country’s economy, hit by Western sanctions and falling commodity prices.
Yesterday, Putin met with his Peruvian counterpart Ollanta Humala to discuss the development of bilateral relations between the two countries and sign a Joint Declaration on Strategic Partnership. The agreement commits to the strengthening of political and economic ties between Peru and Russia, reaffirming their mutual willingness to move forward in all areas of bilateral cooperation. This will entail expansion of military cooperation and collaboration on scientific, nuclear, cultural and educational projects.
Trade relations between the two countries have seen a seven fold increase over the last 10 years, exceeding $500 million in 2013. In 2014, trade between Russia and Peru grew by 9.4 percent.
This blossoming economic relationship has been accompanied by a deepening of political ties with Humala, in November 2014, becoming the first Peruvian president to make an official state visit to Russia.
Further bolstering political ties with Peru will be seen as an astute move in Russia’s wider strategic turn towards Latin America following it’s expulsion from the G8 and the imposition of Western sanctions in the wake of accusations of escalated Russian military action in Ukraine.
The sanctions, which have mostly targeted Russia’s arms and energy industries, have given the country an added impetus to consolidate and enhance its trade relationships with Latin America. The region has long been a receptive market for Russian arms, often with lower purchase and operating margins.
Following retaliatory sanctions that limit food imports from the U.S. and E.U., Russia is also increasingly turning to Latin America, particularly the agricultural behemoths of Argentina and Brazil, to meet its unfulfilled demands.
As analysts like Diana Negroponte of the Wilson Centre point out, however, the nature of Russia’s relationship with Latin America is not one of pure commercial interest. Russia is a country that “needs friends, not only in trade but also at the UN, and it is looking for them wherever it can”.
Russia has shown itself prepared to cut deals in the region. An example is the memorandum signed between Russia’s Gazprom and Argentina’s YPF to develop the Vaca Muerta shale and gas reserves in Patagonia, Argentina.
During a period of falling gas prices and a glut of gas which it has been unable to sell, this might not make much economic sense for Gazprom. But, such a move is significant in terms of political dividends with Argentina, notably abstaining from a UN vote last year that called on member states to ignore Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
The rise of leftwing governments across Latin America during the last decade, outside the ambit of the Washington Consensus and U.S foreign policy objectives, has meant that the region was a natural place for Russia to find international allies. Following the election of the conservative Mauricio Macri in Argentina and predictions of the imminent demise of Bolivarian Socialism in Venezuela, it remains to be seen if Russia can maintain its influence.
For now, more cynical minds would say that following the agreement with Peru, Russia is already reaping rewards. On the the recent downing of a Russian Su-24 jet by Turkish forces over Syria, Humala expressed his solidarity with Russia and declared his confidence in Putins knowledge of the details of the situation.