Ambassador to Cuba Andrey Guskov’s interview with Rossiyskaya Gazeta, published on November 27, 2019
Question: What is the reason for the dynamic development of bilateral ties?
Andrey Guskov: The high intensity of the Russian-Cuban dialogue is due to a number of bilateral and international factors. Havana is Russia’s vital strategic partner and ally in Latin America and the Caribbean. Our bilateral relations are boosted by the unprecedentedly high level and increasing scale of recent cooperation. We also have similar approaches to the main issues concerning global and regional affairs. In light of the current global tension, we need to coordinate our positions and interaction as much as possible.
Question: Interaction between Moscow and Havana was growing not only in the field of politics over the past year. Important economic agreements have been reached and new contracts have been signed. What are the most important joint projects?
Andrey Guskov: Our trade and investment cooperation is indeed growing.
Over the past few months, we have signed a number of crucial bilateral agreements and contracts. When Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev visited Havana in October, RZD International and National Railway Company of Cuba (Union de Ferrocarriles de Cuba or UFC) signed a contract to rebuild and modernise Cuba’s railway infrastructure. The contract provides for overhauling and repairing over 1,000 kilometres of railway lines, the delivery of Russian rail equipment and the training of Cuban personnel. This project is strategically important for Cuba. It will take 10 years and will cost 1.9 billion euros. And lastly, it is the largest international project that Russian Railways (RZD) has.
Other documents signed during Dmitry Medvedev’s visit include agreements on the maintenance of airworthiness of the Russian-made aircraft of Cuba’s national airline, Cubana de Aviacion SA, and the delivery of a rolling machine for the Las Tunas steel mill. Zarubezhneft has launched a pilot project to enhance oil recovery at the Boca de Jaruco oilfield, which includes using Russia’s experience and know-how to drill Cuba’s first horizontal wells.
An additional protocol to an agreement on the manufacturing of four power units for the Maximo Gomez and East Havana thermal power plants was signed during the visit by President of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel to Russia in late October.
Other landmark projects include the construction of facilities for the assembly of Russian-made Ural and GAZ vehicles and PAZ buses outside the capital. These will be the first plants to be built in Cuba with Russian assistance in the post-Soviet period.
There are plans to develop cooperation in nearly all sectors of the Cuban economy. We are making strides in the preparation and implementation of joint projects, in particular in the fields of the green economy, agriculture, light industry, scientific and technological cooperation, healthcare, biopharmaceuticals and the peaceful uses of nuclear energy. The latter project provides for building an irradiation centre in Cuba.
Russian firms and companies are interested in expanding their contribution to the implementation of Cuba’s 2030 National Plan for Economic and Social Development, including in light of the 2019-2020 Opportunities Portfolio recently presented by Cuba.
Question: Many Russians, especially the older generation, still have memories of Soviet-Cuban friendship. Strictly speaking, bilateral mutually beneficial economic cooperation was not the point then. Friendship mostly implied gratuitous deliveries of Soviet goods to Cuba. Is there a risk of returning to the same model now? How justified is Russia’s presence on the island, economically?
Andrey Guskov: Russian-Cuban cooperation is pragmatic and mutually beneficial today. This approach is stated in all the basic bilateral documents, in particular, in the Russian-Cuban declaration on the principles of relations, and is put into action.
Russian loans play an important role in our cooperation; but there is no question of any gratuitous deliveries.
A whole range of Russian engineering products are being exported to Cuba: equipment for oil production, power generation, for smelting, as well as the KAMAZ, URAL, GAZ, and LADA vehicles, locomotives, railway cars and more. These contracts are important for our enterprises, and we can expect to see growth here.
There is no doubt that, as the process of updating the model of Cuba’s socioeconomic development advances – something the Cuban government has set as a major goal it is working towards – competition will definitely increase among foreign partners in the local market.
Even now, there are many economic projects on the island that are very attractive for foreign business, including in tourism, energy, transport, industry, information and communication technologies, peaceful uses of nuclear energy, pharmaceuticals and other fields. It is important for us to provide the opportunity for Russian companies to participate in them.
Question: For six decades, Cuba has been under tremendous pressure from the United States, and recently the embargo has intensified. Does this affect the relationship between Havana and Moscow?
Andrey Guskov: The current session of the UN General Assembly has recently adopted its annual resolution to end the United States’ longstanding embargo against Cuba with 187 votes, that is, almost unanimously, with some exceptions. This is a convincing demonstration of the international community’s broad solidarity with Havana, although Washington continues to apply and has recently toughened its illegal unilateral coercive measures against Cuba.
In such a difficult situation, we are providing all the necessary support to our Cuban friends. We are certainly working on reliably protecting our trade and economic cooperation from extraterritorial sanctions.
Question: As of late, there has been increasing talk in Russia, at the highest state level, about the necessity of abandoning the US dollar in global trade as a currency that has discredited itself and which is affected by time-serving political considerations. In effect, Moscow is already trading with some countries in their respective national currencies. What is Cuba’s position on this, and are there any such plans?
Andrey Guskov: Yes, we are considering this possibility. The conversion to payments and settlements in national currencies in bilateral trade would help make them more resistant to outside pressure.
Question: Although Russia has considerably expanded its presence in Cuba, the European Union and China remain the island’s main trading partners. How does such competition influence cooperation between Moscow and Havana?
Andrei Guskov: Objectively speaking, international trade goes hand in hand with economic competition. It is common knowledge that the latter factor is seen as a driving force of commercial ties. The Cuban market is no exception. Russian companies and enterprises are ready to develop it, while waging a competitive struggle against other foreign economic operators. The necessary conditions for this have been created in our cooperation with Havana. The Russian-Cuban Inter-Governmental Commission for Trade, Economic, Science and Technological Cooperation is an effective mechanism for dialogue and collaboration. In September, Moscow hosted the Commission’s successful 17th session. Its work is clearly aimed at expanding and diversifying bilateral cooperation, including mutual trade.
Question: Cuba entered an era of change, and a new constitution was approved. Now the republic has a president, and the post of prime minister has been reinstated. Private property has been partially legitimised, and mobile internet is available. Do you think the modernisation of the country's sociopolitical life will continue?
Andrey Guskov: There is no doubt about that. Updating the socioeconomic model with an emphasis on implementing, as is noted here, economic methods of managing the national economy remains the Cuban state’s most important goal. The computerisation of Cuban society is another priority. These and other modernisation processes take their roots in the new constitution, which entered into force this year, so progress is guaranteed by the country's fundamental law.
We know from our own experience how difficult transformations of this magnitude can be. I wish our Cuban friends success in their journey to this destination.
We are here to offer the necessary support to our partners by providing the Cubans with model Russian laws in key areas, in which they will need to adopt new legislation in accordance with the current constitution.
Question: The Cuban revolution turned 60 earlier this year. Many people who participated in those events continue to hold important government posts. Do they still have that unshakable faith in the revolutionary ideals of the past? Is revolutionary romance still present in big politics, or is it just for tourists?
Andrey Guskov: Cuba carefully preserves the legacy of its revolution. The memory of its "apostles," primarily Comandante Fidel, is sacred. In this regard, I wouldn’t divide the Cubans into different political generations.
But, like in any other country, in addition to the continuity of eras and generations, there are differences as well. This is absolutely normal and shows that Cuba is developing in line with the dominant international trends.
Getting back to your question, loyalty to the ideals of the revolution is a hallmark of Cuban politics, its banner, if you like.
Question: How did you meet Raul Castro, and what was your impression?
Andrey Guskov: The first time I saw this man up close was in 2014, when I was in Havana as part of a Russian delegation and attended a meeting with Raul Castro. I still have that remarkably vivid impression, and it only got stronger after Raul Castro’s recent meetings with Dmitry Medvedev, Valentina Matviyenko and Nikolai Patrushev, which I had the honour to attend. He remains a person with a sharp mind, a wonderful memory and fine humour, and tends to imbue people on the other side of the negotiating table with optimism and energy.
Question: You specialise in Latin American countries, and have been heading the embassy in Cuba for over a year now. How is working in Cuba different from working in other countries?
Andrey Guskov: Our working relations with our Cuban colleagues are very close and based on trust. They are truly comradely. There is a sense that we are part of one team, although, identifying the best mutually beneficial solutions to various issues on the bilateral agenda involves discussions and occasionally fairly complicated talks. However, this special camaraderie in Russian-Cuban relations is worth a lot and helps us do our work.