Russia escalated its dispute with the West over Ukraine and NATO expansion on Thursday when a top diplomat refused to rule out a military deployment to Cuba and Venezuela should tensions with the United States escalate.

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said he “could neither confirm nor rule out” the possibility of Russia sending military assets to Latin America if the United States and its allies fail to end their military activities near Russian territory.

“Everything depends on the actions of our American counterparts,” the deputy minister said in an interview with Russian television RTVI, in which he mentioned President Vladimir Putin’s warning that Moscow could take unspecified “military technical measures” in the event that The United States and its allies do not comply with their demands.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan downplayed talk of a possible Russian deployment to Cuba and Venezuela, describing the possibility as “bragging.”

In Cuba, the Russian official’s comment was classified as a warning to the United States.

“There is no threat that this is a plan, but simply a warning for the Americans to put themselves in the place of the Russians,” former diplomat and international policy analyst Carlos Alzugaray told The Associated Press.

“Of course this is going to have implications, since the networks are hot. Obviously the question is what Cuba thinks of that, and I think it will remain silent, even in the most likely case that the Russians have consulted” the island, added the expert, who recalled that relations between the Caribbean nation and Moscow is going through a good moment.

An AP request for comment from Cuban authorities went unanswered at this time.

Ryabkov led the Russian delegation in talks with the United States on Monday. The negotiations in Geneva and a related Russia-NATO meeting in Brussels were held in response to an increase in Russian military activities near Ukraine, which the West fears precede an invasion.

Russia, which annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014, denies any plans to attack the neighboring country. The Kremlin reacted to the insinuations by accusing NATO of threatening its territory and demanding that the military alliance never include Ukraine or any of the other former Soviet republics.

Just this week, Washington and its allies flatly rejected that demand, saying it is non-negotiable, but NATO and the Russian delegation agreed to leave the door open for further negotiations on arms control and other issues aimed at reducing the possibility of of hostilities.

Speaking to reporters in Washington, Sullivan said “the alliance’s unity and transatlantic solidarity were exposed and will continue to be” during this week’s talks with Russia, which he described as “frank and direct.”

“We stick to our key premise of reciprocity,” Sullivan said. “We were firm on our principles and clear about those areas where we can make progress and the areas that are non-negotiable.”

Sullivan stressed that no additional talks were scheduled, but “we are willing to continue diplomatic efforts to promote the security and stability of Europe and the Atlantic.”

“We are equally prepared if Russia chooses a different path,” he added. “We remain in close coordination with our allies on tough economic measures in response to a further Russian invasion of Ukraine.”

Asked that Ryabkov left open the possibility of a military deployment to Latin America, Sullivan said: “I’m not going to respond to bragging in the public arena.”

He said the issue was not brought up during this week’s negotiations, adding that “if Russia wants to go down that path, we would deal with it decisively.”

Last month, Ryabkov compared current tensions over Ukraine to the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, when the Soviet Union sent missiles into Cuba and the United States imposed a naval blockade on the island.

That crisis ended after US President John F. Kennedy and Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev agreed that Moscow would withdraw its missiles in return for Washington’s commitment not to invade Cuba and to withdraw its own missiles from Turkey.

Putin, in an attempt to end Western military activity in Eastern Europe, has argued that NATO could use Ukrainian territory to deploy missiles capable of reaching Moscow in just 5 minutes. He warned that Russia could gain similar military capabilities by deploying warships equipped with the latest Zircon hypersonic missile in international waters.

Shortly after coming to power in 2000, Putin ordered the closure of a Soviet-made military surveillance facility in Cuba in a bid to improve relations with Washington. In recent years, Moscow has stepped up communications with Cuba as tensions with the United States and its allies rise.

In December 2018, Russia briefly deployed a pair of its nuclear-capable Tu-160 bombers to Venezuela, in a show of support for President Nicolás Maduro in the face of pressure from the West.



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