“Gangland” Diplomacy in the Caribbean

It’s the biggest news story you probably haven’t heard about, unless you noticed our report of a week or two ago. The London Times headlines: “Russia engages in ‘gangland’ diplomacy as it sends warship to the Caribbean:”

Russia flexed its muscles in America’s backyard yesterday as it sent one of its largest warships to join military exercises in the Caribbean. The nuclear-powered flagship Peter the Great set off for Venezuela with the submarine destroyer Admiral Chabanenko and two support vessels in the first Russian naval mission in Latin America since the end of the Cold War.

“The St Andrew flag, the flag of the Russian Navy, is confidently returning to the world oceans,” Igor Dygalo, a spokesman for the Russian Navy, said. He declined to comment on Russian newspaper reports that nuclear submarines were also part of the expedition.

The voyage to join the Venezuelan Navy for manoeuvres came only days after Russian strategic nuclear bombers made their first visit to the country. Hugo Chávez, the President, said then that the arrival of the strike force was a warning to the US. …

Igor Sechin, the Deputy Prime Minister, made clear that Russia would challenge the US for influence in Latin America after visits to Venezuela, Nicaragua and Cuba last week. He said: “It would be wrong to talk about one nation having exclusive rights to this zone.” …

Pavel Felgengauer, a leading Russian defence expert, told The Times: “It’s to show the flag and the finger to the United States. They are offering a sort of gangland deal – if you get into our territory, then we will get into yours. You leave Georgia and Ukraine to us and we won’t go into the Caribbean, OK?”

Russia sends a nuclear warship and other vessels to the Caribbean for exercises with an avowed enemy of the U.S., along with strategic nuclear bombers: you would think this would be news. But with few exceptions, our newspapers haven’t mentioned it, and no American news outlet, to my knowledge, has given it any prominence, unlike the London Times. This is due, presumably, to a belief on the part of American reporters and editors that knowledge of Russian “gangland diplomacy” in our back yard might give voters qualms about voting for an indecisive novice like Barack Obama for President.

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