Bolivia courts Russian interest

Russia scales up its unofficial interest in LatAm and finds a willing ally in Bolivia.

Bolivia’s last two votes in multilateral organisations have increased scepticism about the direction of its foreign policy. Taking into account that from the constitution to the signing of several international agreements, the country declares itself peaceful and respectful of international rights, what interest can the Bolivian government have in not condemning the crimes that are occurring in Myanmar or Nicaragua?

In this regard, a former Bolivian diplomat affirms that, “although the defence of Bolivia’s ideological partner, Venezuela, in all multilateral areas is a pillar of its foreign policy, from its participation as a non-permanent member in the Security Council from 2016 to 2018, the Movement to Socialism is giving very clear signals that its foreign policy follows a line that goes beyond the anti-imperialist agenda of the 21st century socialism or the Puebla Group.”

The former diplomat continues, “Analysing Bolivia’s international behaviour, not only in speeches, but in actions in multi-lateral scenarios, we can see a clear alignment with the international agenda of the rising-illiberal-powers, specifically China and Russia. And although there is a coincidence – contradicting the US agenda – the important point is that in many cases the Bolivian government is putting aside the country’s own interests to follow this external agenda.”

“Analysing Bolivia’s international behaviour, […], we can see a clear alignment with the international agenda of the rising-illiberal-powers, specifically China and Russia.”

Former diplomat, Bolivia

But how strong is the presence of Russia and China in Latin America? What are their interests in the region? To begin with, China and Russia’s agendas for the region coincide: increasing their presence to be a counterweight to the US. There are differences though: China has a more official presence, through flows of cooperation and diplomatic relations, Russia is moving behind the scenes, without official cooperation.

A Bolivian political analyst described why some elements of Bolivian foreign policy are hard to explain, “If you do not understand any actions of the MAS government regarding foreign policy, it is because they were Russian orders. Russia has penetrated Bolivia’s political systems and without issuing any official cooperation, has a geopolitical expansion agenda involving the country,” comments the current Bolivian diplomat.

There is also a novelty regarding the way in which Russia is implementing these objectives. “Western powers have always intervened in internal affairs, it is true. But the Russian strategy is overtaking them. While the US continues with official cooperation, espionage, and even military invasion, Russia became the leader of the internet. Not only is it the power in terms of cyber-attacks, but it also has companies specialised in moving public opinion through social networks.”

“The recent vote in favour of the Ortega regime in Nicaragua was an international shame.”

Current Bolivian diplomat, Bolivia

The key question is, if Bolivia continues with this agenda, how far can it go? “The recent vote in favour of the Ortega regime in Nicaragua was an international shame,” says the current Bolivian diplomat. “Luis Arce is afraid of US sanctions. Venezuela ended up falling with that and they know it. The question is whether Russia is going to help Bolivia with money because China has made it clear that it will not. China, as demonstrated with Venezuela, will not come to the rescue of anyone.”

Considering what has happened to other Russian partners in the region, the Bolivian government must decide if it wants to follow this route, much more so now that Joe Biden has decided to retake the site of global power. “The Bolivian government is risking everything for a group of countries that do not have the power or the economic capacity of others,” said the former diplomat.

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