Russia Claims U.S. Trying to Create Unrest in Cuba Like It Has In Other Countries

Russia has accused the United States of attempting to deliberately stir unrest from within in Cuba, part of a tested playbook for overthrowing unfriendly governments across the globe.

After President Joe Biden cheered on some of the largest protests in decades to rock the Communist-led island of Cuba, Moscow has come to the political defense of its Cold War-era ally.

Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson Maria Zakharova slammed Washington's position, accusing it of attempting to foment a so-called "color revolution" in reference to pro-democracy, often pro-Western uprisings that have occurred in other countries, including those of the former Soviet bloc.

"The logic is simple here," Zakharova said. "It has been tested on numerous occasions by Washington in various situations, but everything is one and the same mode of operation—instigating color revolutions against undesirable regimes."

She then laid out what she alleged to be the U.S. strategy.

"At first, sanctions are introduced against them, and artificial problems are created or imposed from outside, which complicate the social and economic situation," Zakharova said. "On this basis, tensions are provoked, and antigovernment sentiment is stirred up. When a critical mass is reached, the whole blame is laid on the national government. Labels are pinned on it, its activity is discredited and thus the situation nears a collapse."

In Cuba, she argued, "there have been attempts to use the same scheme."

Cuba, Díaz-Canel, meets, Russia, Putin
Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with his Cuban counterpart Miguel Díaz-Canel at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on October 29, 2019. While the collapse of the Soviet Union changed the calculus of relations between Moscow and Havana, they maintain robust ties that have increased in recent years. ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images

The country has been subjected to more than six decades of U.S. embargo stemming from late longtime leader Fidel Castro's adoption of communism in the wake of a 1959 revolution. The Soviet Union stepped in at the time to support Cuba, and even attempted to deploy nuclear-capable weapons in an incident that sparked the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis.

But the collapse of the USSR led to economic woes for Havana.

Former President Barack Obama, whom Biden served as vice president, lifted a number of restrictions against Cuba, but his successor, former President Donald Trump, doubled down on attempts to isolate the island. Biden had expressed opposition to these tightened measures in the run-up to the election last year but has so far maintained them as Cuba's economic difficulties were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the loss of badly needed tourism revenue.

Last weekend, rare protests erupted across the country in response to an apparent scarcity of COVID-19 vaccines and basic goods. While Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, the first leader outside the Castro family to act as both head of state and chief of the ruling Communist Party, has blamed the U.S. for the hardships of his people, the Biden administration has held the Cuban government responsible.

Echoing Biden's words, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told reporters Thursday that the president "has made clear that he stands with the Cuban people and their call for freedom from both the pandemic and from decades of repression and economic suffering to which they've been subjected by Cuba's authoritarian regime."

The protests in Cuba come shortly after the international community overwhelmingly voted to condemn the ongoing U.S. embargo of Cuba for the 29th time in a 184-2 vote at the United Nations General Assembly last month.

It also comes as the State Department continues a review of its policies toward Cuba with no set date for conclusion. Psaki said Thursday the administration has sought to pursue the review process "through the prism of how we can most help the Cuban people, the people who have been out in the streets looking to have their voices heard in these protests."

"And as we look at those policies, one of the big factors is ensuring we are not doing anything to pad the pockets of a corrupt authoritarian regime," Psaki said. "And that is certainly a factor as he's considering, but we're looking closely at how we can help in a humanitarian way, how we can help support the voices of the Cuban people, and there's an ongoing policy review in that regard."

Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned on Monday that it would be "it would be a grievous mistake for the Cuban regime to interpret what is happening in dozens of towns and cities across the island as the result or product of anything the United States has done."

"It would be a grievous mistake because it would show that they simply are not hearing the voices and will of the Cuban people," the top U.S. diplomat said at the time, "people deeply, deeply, deeply tired of the repression that has gone on for far too long, tired of the mismanagement of the Cuban economy, tired of the lack of adequate food, and of course, inadequate response to the COVID pandemic."

Cuba, protest, Tampa, Florida
Cuban-Americans and sympathizers protest against the Cuban government in the historic neighborhood of Ybor City, on July 14 in Tampa, Florida. The U.S. state and major cities are home to a large Cuban diaspora community, much of which is vocally opposed to the ruling Cuban Communist Party. Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Russia, for its part, has expressed bemusement at such remarks.

"Despite all measures to support the country's economy and provide assistance to the citizens taken by the central Cuban authorities, Washington is blaming them for the current crisis," Zakharova said Thursday. "They allege that Havana is refusing to accept American assistance, is unwilling to take part in international mechanisms of distributing vaccines, and is carrying out an anti-popular policy in general."

She said Moscow's position was for "Washington to take on an objective position finally, to get rid of the hypocrisy and hidden agendas in politics, and to let the Cubans, their government and people, deal with the situation themselves and determine their fate."

"And if Washington really is concerned over the humanitarian situation in Cuba and wants to help regular Cubans," she added, "they need to start with themselves, by lifting the blockade, which was opposed from the start by the entire global community."

Such sentiments have also voiced by Cuban officials, who recently moved to address some protester grievances.

On Wednesday, Cuban Prime Minister Manuel Marrero announced the lifting of limits and duties applied to travelers bringing in certain amounts of food, medicine and other essential products into the country.

Díaz-Canel too acknowledged the demands voiced by the mass demonstrations.

"We have to gain experience from the disturbances," the Cuban president said during a televised address Wednesday. "We also have to carry out a critical analysis of our problems in order to act and overcome, and avoid their repetition."

But he remained firm in his criticism of the U.S. role, and, in a tweet following his remarks, said that the U.S. embargo "delays us, it does not allow us to advance at the speed we need," causing even problems not directly related to the restrictions "to accumulate."

Havana, Cuba, street, flags
People walk along a street under the flags of Cuba and the late Fidel Castro's 26th of July Movement in Havana, on July 14. One person has died in the anti-government protests across Cuba, according to officials, with activists saying at least 100 people have been arrested and scores remain in detention as demonstrations overseas in solidarity continued. YAMIL LAGE/AFP/Getty Images