Russia promotes recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia in Latin America and the Caribbean.

Security Council Secretary Nikolai Patrushev completed his visit to Bolivia where he represented Russia at the ALBA summit (Bolivarian Alternative for Latin America and the Caribbean). What information is available to this newspaper indicates that Patrushev made the trip there to promote recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. ALBA members had no objections – as long as Russia loaned them money the way it had loaned it to Venezuela. President of Ecuador Rafael Correa expected in Moscow next week will definitely try to emulate Hugo Chavez.

The latest ALBA summit in Cochabamba, Bolivia, was the first one Russia was present at. This alliance of Latin American leftist regimes (Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Ecuador, Dominica, Honduras, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Antigua and Barbuda) was established in 2004 on the initiative of Chavez of Venezuela and Fidel Castro of Cuba. Russia was never particularly interested in ALBA or its doings at first but the war with Georgia changed it. When the brief war was over, Moscow set out to strengthen its positions in America’s southern underbelly. Touring the region last November, President Dmitry Medvedev met with ALBA leaders in Caracas. When he was visiting Moscow last month, Chavez suggested making Russia an observer at ALBA summits (the status reserved until then to Haiti, Iran, and Uruguay).

Sources in Russian diplomatic circles said that Moscow had taken to the idea instantly. Unfortunately, formalities required more time than remained until the next ALBA summit and it was Patrushev in the long run who was dispatched to represent Russia in Cochabamba. Patrushev is number two official in the Russian leadership after Deputy Premier Igor Sechin in charge of the Latin America and the Caribbean. It was he who visited Cuba and Argentine in August and November last year. Addressing the ALBA summit, Patrushev spoke of Moscow’s eagerness to develop cooperation with the alliance. Exactly what this cooperation might constitute was never said.

There is at least one international affair where Moscow might find ALBA’s support handy. It concerns Abkhazia and South Ossetia and their international recognition. Nicaragua and Venezuela are two ALBA members that already recognized runaway Georgian provinces. Visiting Moscow, Chavez plainly announced that the process of recognition needed an “additional impetus”. “Venezuela will talk it over with friendly governments, with allies in Latin America, the Caribbean, and Africa,” he promised. Sources in the governments of Abkhazia and South Ossetia said that these countries pin the hopes for recognition on ALBA countries.

Russia magnanimously rewarded Nicaragua and Venezuela for recognition. Last December, Daniel Ortega returned to Nicaragua from Moscow with agreements with Inter RAO Unified Energy Systems (its board of directors headed by Sechin) concerning construction of power plants and with Russia’s promises to help Nicaragua prospect the shelf for hydrocarbons.

Recognition of Abkhazia and South Ossetia by Caracas cost Moscow even more. Russia loaned Caracas $2.2 billion to buy weapons from Russia with. Russian oil companies were licensed to develop oil fields in the Orinoco belt. This project requires nearly $30 billion worth of investments, and the Russians already paid $1 billion in cash for the agreement with Venezuela.

Other ALBA countries might decide that they also want to be sweetened to the tune of Russian finances. Patrushev met with representatives of two poorest ALBA countries (Bolivia and Ecuador) in Cochabamba. A source in the Security Council said that the negotiations with Evo Morales of Bolivia were centered around “energy cooperation, joint production of hydrocarbons, military-technical cooperation” and the sale of an AN-148 to La Paz (for the Latin American equivalent of the US Air Force One). Bolivian Defense Minister Walker San Miguel Rodrigues admitted in August that his country had no money for weapons and the AN-148. Bolivia already applied for a loan ($100 million).

Political risks in Bolivia where the snap election of the president will take place this December are quite high. Morales’ victory is not at all certain. Correa in Quito in the meantime is a wholly different matter. He was elected for another four-year term this April.

Patrushev met with Correa to discuss his forthcoming visit to Moscow where some “major treaties and agreements” were to be signed. Correa said a week ago that he expected to sign military contracts with Medvedev. Sources close to Rosoboronexport explained that the matter concerns deliveries of MI-171 helicopters, SU-30 aircraft, and Igla shoulder-fired SAM rocket launchers. Unfortunately, falling oil prices left Quito essentially impoverished so that it will probably ask to loan money for the military hardware from Russia. Insiders assume that Correa might show his gratitude the way his mentor Chavez did and recognize Abkhazia and South Ossetia.