The current crisis opens up new opportunities for strengthening international cooperation and developing new directions. From a Latin American perspective, building ties between the United States and Russia in the fight against the pandemic helps to balance and maintain a diversified relationship, write Andrés Serbin and Andrei Serbin Pont, following a discussion “USA, Russia and Latin America: an Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-Covid 19 Era”. The meeting, in which the Valdai Club also took part, took place online on 4 August.
On the 24th of July an image of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro offering hydroxychloroquine to an ostrich rapidly became viral. The picture, beyond its humorous intent, also reflects growing desperation by political elites in Latin America to offer a solution to citizens as the region becomes the main focus of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
The months leading up to this situation have witnessed the desperate attempted by Latin American countries to access much needed supplies to deal with the ongoing pandemic, whether employing strategic military transports to fetch N95 masks abroad or attempting to reinforce local capacity to produce respirators, but most of these efforts have also been shots in the dark. Five months into the pandemic and clear policies to deal with the catastrophe are still under debate in most of Latin American countries.
Yet this debate is not restricted to national spheres, but rather has become a deep-seated problem at the heart of multilateral organizations, specially the World Health Organization that is not only overwhelmed by the magnitude of the pandemic but also under attack by many of its members under accusations ranging from ineptitude to corruption to submission to Chinese interests. This crisis of multilateral organizations affects all nations but is magnified in lower income countries highly dependent on international cooperation as well as on overall international support to obtain much needed tools to deal with this crisis.
This vacuum in multilateral spheres has strengthened the initiatives of some powers in their intent to further upgrade their cooperation with Latin America and the Caribbean. An example of this is the recently signed agreement between Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), JimRar Group and Sigma Corp S.R.L. to provide Bolivia with 150,000 units of Avifavir, a novel treatment for coronavirus developed by Russia. Bolivia will likely serve as a beach head for the entry of this product and other COVID-19 products and services reaching Argentina, Ecuador, Uruguay, Paraguay, Honduras and El Salvador. A recent online meeting with Central American representatives and Russian officials opened the door for Moscow´s commitment to provide and promote Avifavir in Central American countries.
Yet the most successful efforts in this sphere have been conducted by China through aggressive wolf warrior diplomats, successful media campaigns and broad reaching support mechanisms to provide affected countries across the globe with supplies to face the pandemic in its early stages. China is deploying an active “health diplomacy” in Latin America and the Caribbean offering its cooperation (and its vaccines) as shown by a recent on line meeting organized by the ChCP government with 12 Latin American countries within the framework of the China-CELAC Forum.
A less successful example is the United States, that initially was fueled by the presidential support for hydroxychloroquine and has now opted to dump its stocks of the product into the Brazilian market as its effectiveness is questioned.
A webinar held on August 4th on “USA, Russia and Latin America: an Agenda for Constructive Cooperation in the Post-Covid 19 Era
” organized by the Russian Embassy in Guatemala, the Valdai Club, the Russian-American Chamber of Commerce and CRIES, featuring the participation of the Russian Federation Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov, showed the willingness to search ways for US-Russia cooperation to help address the pandemic in the region, and referred to the current crisis as one that “opens up new opportunities for enhancing international cooperation and developing new areas of growth in the post and current period as well as additional prospects for strengthening interaction. They will emerge, first of all in medicine and healthcare, information and communication technologies, production and distribution of essential goods and services, and ensuring civil security.”
However, the backdrop of these initiatives shows a deeper geopolitical relevance. In anticipation of the US presidential elections in November 2020, Moscow is looking for ways of maintaining a global equilibrium in the post-pandemic era signaling its willingness to go beyond the current conversations on nuclear arms control and other issues with Washington, in an effort to avoid to being caught in the process of increasing confrontation between the United States and China. Beijing has become a close partner of Moscow in recent years, but Russia is aware of the economic asymmetry and global reach of the Chinese. Following the principle of “never against each other, not always with each other”, cooperation with the United States on different matters and in different regions help to keep a healthy balance in the trend toward a new bi-polarization and messages to restore relations are sent to both presidential candidates in the US elections.
Notwithstanding the differences regarding Venezuela and its humanitarian and political impasse, Latin America is an auspicious field to further these messages and a fertile ground for cooperation as the changing global dynamic demands more pragmatic and diversified foreign policy agendas. From a Latin American point of view, a US-Russia cooperation in helping to address the pandemic is a good omen and contributes to balance and maintain the diversification of its relations. As the Russian popular saying goes, for Latin America and the Caribbean “a smart calf milks different cows”.