CubaBrief: The Molotov-Ribbentrop pact at 84, Europe’s failed Cuba policy, and the war in Ukraine

Ribbentrop, Stalin and Molotov on Aug 23, 1939

Eighty four years ago on August 23, 1939, Communist Russia and Nazi Germany signed the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact, a supposed “non-aggression pact”, but in reality it was an “aggression pact” that divided Central and Eastern Europe into spheres of influence. It was named after Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop, their respective foreign ministers.  On September 1, 1939, Nazi Germany invaded Poland , commencing World War II. Sixteen days later, the Soviet Union invaded Poland from the east, invoking their secret pact with the Nazis, and met their German allies in the centre of Poland.

Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya

Belarusian political activist Sviatlana Tsikhanouskaya over Twitter drew the lesson from the West’s failure in containing the Nazis and the Soviets in the 1930s with their policies of appeasement, and the present situation.

“The signing of the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact 84 years ago serves as a stark reminder of the consequences when dictators are appeased and permitted to carve the world into spheres of influence. Evil, left unchecked, will not be contained; it will spread and set the world on fire.”

This is a lesson some European leaders seem to have forgotten.

First it was a bad idea for the European Union to legitimize the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), a regional body created by Hugo Chavez as an alternative to the Organization of American States, a democratic regional body. When the European Union held a bilateral EU-CELAC summit with the dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua that all backed Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, and appeased them by accepting their veto of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky attending the gathering it sent a message of weakness. Finally, issuing a final declaration at this summit that lamented the situation in the Ukraine, but did not mention Russia’s illegal war against that country only encourages further aggression.

Miguel Diaz-Canel, who should be in the dock at the International Criminal Court for giving the order of combat against unarmed and nonviolent Cuban citizens on July 11, 2021, was received in Brussels by European leaders at the EU-CELAC Summit in July 2023, and will be speaking at the UN General Assembly next month.

Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel on May 19, 2023 declared to  Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Chernishenko, “Cuba’s unconditional support for the Russian Federation in its confrontation with the West.” CubaBrief has examined since February 24, 2022 how Havana has backed Moscow’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on the diplomatic and propaganda front at first, and now on the military front.

Evil regimes must be checked and contained, but the European Union is failing in its policy towards Cuba, and Latin America more broadly. It is also having consequences for Europe and the war in Ukraine.

Center for a Free Cuba, August 23, 2023

Some background on Miguel Diaz-Canel who is invited to speak at the UN General Assembly in NYC.

Negotiations of the President of the Russian Federation Vladimir Putin with the President of the Republic of Cuba Miguel Diaz-Canel Bermudez (October 29, 2019).

Given that Cuban President Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez will be attending the United Nations General Assembly next month in New York City, it is important to examine his record as a repressive element of the Cuban dictatorship and an ally of Vladimir Putin in Moscow’s illegal war in Ukraine.

War in Ukraine

Cuban president Miguel Diaz-Canel on May 19, 2023 declared to  Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Dmitri Chernishenko, “Cuba’s unconditional support for the Russian Federation in its confrontation with the West.” CubaBrief has examined since February 24, 202 how Havana has backed Moscow’s illegal invasion of Ukraine on the diplomatic and propaganda front at first, and now on the military front.

On May 18, 2023 a high ranking Belarusian military official Valery Revenka, Head of the Department of International Military Cooperation – Assistant to the Minister of Defense of the Republic of Belarus for International Military Cooperation, revealed that Cuban military personnel will carry out military training in the Republic of Belarus.

Repression and criminality in Cuba

Miguel Mario Díaz-Canel Bermúdez on April 19, 2018 was named president of Cuba, and on April 19, 2021 became First Secretary of the Communist Party of Cuba. This officially made him the maximum authority in the country. President Díaz-Canel, and members of his regime have engaged in serious and systemic human rights violations during his tenure in office.

Raul Castro and Miguel Diaz-Canel in 2017

One day after being named president, Diaz-Canel on April 20, 2018 presided over the issuing of Decree 349, that further restricted artistic expression by mandating the Ministry of Culture’s approval of both public and private cultural events and banned the use of “unpatriotic symbols”. (Sources: PEN, Freedom House, and Amnesty International)

With the implementation of Decree Law 370 in July 2019, Díaz-Canel prohibited Cubans from storing their information on foreign servers, further restricting Cuba’s outlawed independent press, and criminalized the circulation of “information contrary to the social interest, morals, good customs, and integrity of the people.” (Sources: ISHRHuman Rights WatchFreedom House)

Decree Law 389, brought into force on November 18, 2019 allows for “investigators to engage in electronic surveillance without prior judicial approval and use the resulting information as evidence in criminal cases. Anonymity and encryption technologies are legally prohibited.” (Sources: Freedom HouseNew Generation Foundation )

President and First Secretary Díaz-Canel has been (and is) directly responsible for serious and ongoing human rights abuses in Cuba and Venezuela.

On May 11, 2019 gay rights activists were beaten down, and arrested for carrying out the annual Gay Pride march in Havana after the government unilaterally cancelled it. (Source: Freedom House )

Since the activation of Decree Law 370 there has been “a wave of interrogations of independent journalists that include threats against their families as well as pressure to delete and discontinue their critical coverage of the government on social media.”(Source: Freedom House, Human Rights Watch, CPJ ). This worsened during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. State Department’s “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Cuba” reported that Cuban intelligence agents were training Venezuelan and Nicaraguan counterparts on the “use of repressive tactics and human rights abuses and sometimes participated in the abuses directly.” (Sources: State Department, CASLA). UN reports accused Venezuela’s Directorate General of Military Counterintelligence “(DGCIM) of torture, and many former Venezuelan prisoners said that Cubans, identified by their distinctive accents, supervised while DGCIM personnel tortured prisoners.”(Sources: United Nations, State Department, CASLA)

The U.S. State Department also included Cuba again in tier 3 of the 2021 Trafficking in Persons Report due to continued sex trafficking and labor trafficking in benefit of the corrupt government: “During the reporting period, there was a government policy or government pattern to profit from labor export programs with strong indications of forced labor, particularly its foreign medical missions program”. There is a high correlation of human trafficking with corruption in Cuba using hard currency from the medical brigades to benefit members of the government instead of providing adequate health care services in the country.

On July 11, 2021 tens of thousands of Cubans across the island in over 50 cities and towns took part in large non-violent demonstrations chanting “freedom”, “yes, we can”, “we are not afraid. Protests, despite the harsh government response, would continue until July 13th.

[ Full article ]

New Atlanticist, August 21, 2023

What the 1939 Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact tells us about today’s war in Ukraine

By Ann Marie Dailey

While speaking at his security council on July 21, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “the western territories of Poland are a gift from Stalin to the Poles.” What he did not say is that the Soviet Union annexed Poland’s eastern territories as part of its partition of the country with Nazi Germany as agreed to in the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact, signed eighty-four years ago this week. On the eve of World War II, Moscow made the pact with what it saw as the pre-eminent power in Europe to divide smaller nations between them. Today, Russia is pursuing a similar ambition—with its invasion of Ukraine, the Kremlin is once again trying to expand its borders by force and make a bargain with a great power at the expense of the smaller country it seeks to conquer.

Some impatient Western leaders who don’t understand the difficulties inherent in attacking well-prepared defensive positions are fretting over the slow progress of Ukraine’s counteroffensive. This has led to increased discussion of a potential negotiated settlement to the conflict by political commentators and some officials. Russia will continue to seek a grand bargain with the United States on “European security” based on Moscow’s interests and without the input of the nations impacted, particularly Ukraine.

Thus, it is crucial that US politicians and diplomats fully include Kyiv in all peace negotiations with Russia. This also applies to any “track 2” or “track 1.5” dialogues. Otherwise, the United States would be reinforcing Moscow’s mistaken belief that—as it did in 1939 with Nazi Germany—it can engage in territorial horse-trading by coercing smaller nations and making bargains with larger ones. Moreover, Putin’s disregard for smaller nations’ sovereignty demonstrates that only security guarantees backed by military force can deter future Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Eventually, Ukraine and Russia must come to the table to agree some sort of terms to cease hostilities. But if Western leaders want these negotiations and their aftermath to be successful, they would do well to keep in mind the human cost of the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact and the Kremlin’s rehabilitation of its logic.

Spheres of influence

On August 23, 1939, Germany and the Soviet Union signed what came to be known as the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact after the Soviet and German foreign ministers, Vyacheslav Molotov and Joachim von Ribbentrop. To the world, it was a nonaggression pact. While many suspected the countries also conducted territorial horse-trading, it was not until the Nuremberg trials following World War II that the general population learned of the secret protocols that delineated Soviet and German “spheres of mutual interest in Eastern Europe.” The protocols partitioned Poland between the two powers while ceding Finland, the Baltic states, and Bessarabia (which had been part of Romania and largely aligns with modern-day Moldova) to the Soviet Union. Germany invaded western Poland roughly a week later, on September 1, 1939, and on September 17 the Soviet Union invaded eastern Poland. On September 22 the Soviet and Nazi militaries held a joint military parade in Brest-Litovsk.

Poland’s sovereignty was only the first domino that the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact toppled. Two days after its parade with the Nazis in Brest-Litovsk, the Soviet Union turned its attention to the Baltic states and Finland, coercing all four to sign “mutual assistance treaties” that would allow the Soviet Union to base troops in their territory. The Baltic nations painfully acquiesced, while Finland’s refusal to sign led to the 1939-1940 Winter War. When Finland eventually ceded almost 10 percent of its territory to the Soviet Union to maintain its sovereignty, the Soviets turned their attention back to the Baltic states. While the Winter War was ongoing, the Soviets had already stationed troops in the small Baltic states. It used these troops’ presence and naval blockades to violate the precepts in the mutual assistance treaties that had guaranteed the Baltic states’ sovereignty by installing puppet governments that declared they wanted to join the Soviet Union. Following the Baltic nations’ annexation into the Soviet Union, tens of thousands of Balts were either killed or deported, and they did not regain their sovereignty until the fall of the Soviet Union.

Moscow has gone back and forth on whether and how to acknowledge the pact’s secret protocols. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union denied their existence. Under glasnost in 1989, the Soviet Union acknowledged the pact and released it from the archives. More recently, Putin has called the pact a necessary evil, and his Kremlin has sought to rehabilitate it, either by noting that dividing the world into spheres of influence was a common practice at the time or by blaming Poland, Estonia, and Latvia for the outbreak of World War II. Which brings us back to today.

The pact’s lessons for Ukraine

With both his words and actions, Putin demonstrates that he does not believe in the sovereignty of small nations. He believes in horse-trading between great powers, and so it is only a great power’s security guarantees and refusal to horse-trade that can deter him. Until Ukraine is in NATO, Ukrainians remain vulnerable to attack regardless of how many times Moscow’s leaders assure they will respect Ukrainian sovereignty.

Anything short of credible security guarantees for Ukraine will not deter Russia. The Budapest Memorandum provided assurances to Ukraine, and Russia invaded in 2014 anyway. The United States and its allies and partners ramped up economic and military assistance to Ukraine following the 2014 invasion, then again sharply in the months prior to February 2022. And still, Russia invaded. Promises to provide military and economic aid to Ukraine have not and will not deter future Russian invasions. Hoping that Russia will capitulate in the face of long-term US or Group of Seven (G7) economic commitments to Ukraine ignores Russia’s long history of being able to absorb pain and punishment to win. Indeed, it sees this as one of its greatest strengths vis-à-vis the United States and its democratic allies and partners.

To fully deter future Russian attacks, Ukraine must receive security guarantees backed up by a military enforcement mechanism. Ideally, this would mean NATO membership. Given the inherent political difficulties of bringing Ukraine into NATO, interim security guarantees on a bilateral or multilateral basis likely will be necessary. This might take the form of a multinational peacekeeping force, maritime security force escorting grain ships in the Black Sea, or something more akin to a Reconstruction Security Force. Whatever precise form it takes, it is imperative that any guarantee be backed by a credible military enforcement mechanism. As history shows, Moscow will respect nothing less.

Ann Marie Dailey is a nonresident senior fellow with the Atlantic Council’s Transatlantic Security Initiative, a policy researcher at RAND, and a captain in the US Army Reserves. She previously served as the senior advisor to the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs.

The views expressed are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of RAND, the Department of the Army, or the Department of Defense.

TASS,  July 6, 2023

EU nixes Zelensky’s invitation to summit after Latin America objects — portal

The heads of Central and Latin American countries, who are to travel to Brussels on July 17-18, insisted on removing all paragraphs on support for Ukraine from the draft final declaration of the event

BRUSSELS, July 6. /TASS/. The leaders of 33 Latin American and Caribbean nations have persuaded the European Union to cancel Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky’s invitation to the upcoming EU-CELAC Summit of Heads of State and Government, the Brussels-based EURACTIV news portal reported on Thursday citing unnamed diplomatic sources.

Besides, the heads of Central and Latin American countries, who are to travel to Brussels on July 17-18, insisted on removing all paragraphs on support for Ukraine from the draft final declaration of the event.

On the eve of the summit, CELAC leaders submitted their counter-proposal to the draft text which they obtained from Brussels on July 4, the portal said. According to one of its sources, they “deleted everything about Ukraine.”

Spain, which presides over the Council of the European Union, has already sent an invitation to Zelensky to participate, but it “was canceled after pushback from Latin American leaders,” EURACTIV said.

According to four diplomatic sources interviewed by the portal, the final draft of the document will be discussed by EU ambassadors “in an effort to salvage a draft communique.” Per the report, there is a chance that no final document will be adopted at the summit.

Earlier, EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to work with every single country in the world to demand that they clearly articulate their stance regarding Russia’s special military operation in Ukraine as well as the rise of China. Moreover, during their latest meeting on June 29-30, EU leaders tasked the External Action Service with engaging in “sanctions diplomacy” to make all countries support the union’s anti-Russian sanctions.