UK and US have big opportunity to isolate Russia and take ally out the hands of Putin

'Putin is not being stopped' says Ukrainian MP

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Any discussion of the response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in the West has so far focussed primarily on sanctions. The impact of these has, however, been brought into question given the number of countries that have chosen not to impose such measures and because of questions over who suffers most as a result of the sanctions – the Russian regime, the Russian people or, indeed, citizens of the countries which impose sanctions in the first place.

The discussion, then, is slowly turning towards how to isolate Moscow from the allies on which it relies for funds, intelligence and military aid.

Now, Rosa María Payá, the head of a citizens initiative, has urged the West to take action against Cuba in order to help take it “from the hand of the Putin regime”.

She told the invasion of Ukraine has brought attention to the “more and more obvious alliance of the Cuban regime with the Putin regime”.

This was perhaps best captured when, earlier this year, the Kremlin threatened to send Russian troops to Cuba, noting this “all depends on the action by our US counterparts”.

Such a landing would not occur without precedent, with the presence of Russian troops in Venezuela officially confirmed for the first time in 2019.

Shortly after the Kremlin’s threat was issued, the Russian Speaker of the State Duma visited Cuba and thanked the island for supporting its decision on the Donetsk and Luhansk regions.

He even described Cuba as a “freedom-loving nation”, despite growing evidence of its continued and brutal repression of liberty.

As tensions heat up between Russia and the West over Ukraine, Ms Payá said the positioning of Cuba, less than 100 miles from the US, acts as a stark warning of the risk of a “second Cuban missile crisis”.

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But while the Russian invasion and Western efforts to isolate Putin should “logically” have brought the matter of Cuba to the fore, the Cuba Decide leader noted, “we are not seeing that happen, at least not at the speed that circumstances require”.

Highlighting the risks of the relatively unquestioned relationship, Ms Payá said: “That threat about deploying Russian troops is not something news for the Cuban people. Everybody remembers the role Cuba played during the Cold War.

“I believe what has been taking place in Ukraine is awakening the citizens and the governments in the West to the reality that maybe the world was not as under control as we thought.”

A key example of this, she added, is related to the Cuban intelligence apparatus, which “has played the role of the operator and the gateway of Russia – and also China and sometimes Iran – in the whole region” and is directed by “the Cuban state security that was at one point in history trained by the KGB and has excellent links and communications with the Putin regime”.

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Ms Payá stressed that choosing now to hold Cuba to account would not only help to support the Cuban people – no bad thing in itself, given the “critical situation on the island on almost all fronts”, including the economy, sanitation and repression, with hundreds of protesters, children among them, jailed for up to 30 years for demonstrating peacefully – but would come as a blow to Moscow.

This, she added, could be done by imposing “individual, targeted sanctions” which impact those leading the regime, not those suffering under it, and by stopping negotiating under the regime.

The campaigner argued Britain is well placed to lead on this front, having left the European Union, which currently has a far-too close relationship with the “oppressors of the Cuban people”.

Britain is currently a signee of the EU-Cuba Political Dialogue and Cooperation Agreement, which contains seemingly empty talk on “cooperation in the field of the promotion of justice”, having been agreed before Brexit was enacted, but could now leave this and take the initiative to send a message about Cuba’s actions – and its relationship with Russia – not going unnoticed.

Ms Payá said: “The British Government is in the best possible position to do it right now and to lead a process of solidarity with the Cuban people and to isolate more and more the Putin regime.”

But if a new approach is adopted, the people of Cuba will, she added, expect more than gestures: “It is a reality that when we ask for actions and solidarity, we are not just asking for an altruistic gesture. We are asking for protection.”

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