Global Insights: Medvedev Tour Shows Moscow’s Latin American Limits

Global Insights: Medvedev Tour Shows Moscow’s Latin American Limits

Dmitry Medvedev just completed his first visit to Latin American as Russia's new president, traveling to Brazil, Cuba, and then Venezuela after attending the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conference in Peru late last month. Accompanied by an impressive delegation of Russian government officials and influential business leaders, Medvedev used the Lima summit and follow-on tour as an opportunity to meet with other world leaders, promote various economic and defense deals, and reaffirm Russia's intent to strengthen its presence in South America.

Russian officials desire improved relations with South American countries for both economic and political reasons. The surge in world commodity prices in recent years has brought billions of dollars of income to several Latin American countries. Some of these funds have helped rebuild national militaries, creating opportunities for Russian defense suppliers eager to expand beyond their traditional markets of China and India. According to the U.S. Congressional Research Service, between 1998 and 2001, Russia supplied $300 million worth of arms to the region. Between 2002 and 2005, that amount doubled. By 2007, Latin America had become the third largest market of Rosobornoexport, which accounts for 85 percent of Russia's weapons sales. Between 2005 and 2007, Russian arms transfers to Venezuela alone topped $3 billion dollars.

In addition, several Latin American countries such as Brazil are counting on their rising economic strength to endow them with greater diplomatic influence in the 21st century. "Latin America, of course, is becoming an obvious link in the chain making up a multipolar world," Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin said in September 2008. "We will allocate more and more attention to this vector of our economics and foreign policy."

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