WASHINGTON — Russia has expanded its presence in Latin America in ways that signal “a clear return to Cold War tactics,” the general commanding U.S. southern forces said Thursday.
“Russia is using power projection in an attempt to erode U.S. leadership and challenge U.S. influence in the Western Hemisphere,” Marine Corps Gen. John Kelly, head of U.S. Southern Command, said in a statement submitted as he testified Thursday before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
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As Russia’s President Vladimir Putin accuses the United States of meddling in his backyard by backing the government of Ukraine against pro-Russian separatists, the U.S. general’s report emphasized that Russia is stepping up its efforts to gain influence in the Americas.
“Periodically since 2008, Russia has pursued an increased presence in Latin America through propaganda, military arms and equipment sales, counterdrug agreements, and trade,” Kelly said. “Under President Putin, however, we have seen a clear return to Cold War tactics.”
Starting last year, a Russian intelligence ship has docked in Havana “multiple times conducting operations in the Gulf of Mexico and along the East Coast of the United States,” he said.
Russia is courting Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua “to gain access to air bases and ports for resupply of Russian naval assets and strategic bombers operating in the Western Hemisphere,” Kelly said.