Russia's war in Ukraine is one year old. Since February 24, 2022, more than 42,200 people have died and 14 million have been displaced in what Vladimir Putin defined in his speech as a "special military operation" in defense of the Donbas region. Beyond the human and material consequences for Ukrainians, the first territorial invasion of a sovereign state in Europe in 80 years has had international repercussions, from food to energy.
What the western democracies condemned from the very first moment, and continue to today, with heavy sanctions against the aggressor, was justified by the Cuban regime, also from the beginning of the conflict. Havana has been in charge of reducing pressure on Moscow exerted by the United Nations, and has disseminated the disinformation spouted by Putin across Latin America.
On February 26, the Cuban Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MINREX) made clear its position of alignment with Moscow, blamed the US and NATO for the conflict and justified the aggression in an official note shared by Bruno Rodriguez.
"Russia has the right to defend itself. It is not possible to achieve peace by encircling and cornering states," the "Declaration of the Revolutionary Government" noted.
"The U.S. determination to continue NATO's progressive expansion toward the borders of the Russian Federation has led to a scenario, with implications of unpredictable scope, that could have been avoided," the regime noted.
According to Havana, one cannot "examine with rigor and honesty the current situation in Ukraine without carefully assessing the just claims of the Russian Federation before the United States and NATO, and the factors that have led to the use of force and the non-observance of legal principles and international norms that Cuba endorses and supports with full vigor, and are an essential reference point, particularly for small countries, against hegemonism, abuses of power and injustices."
According to the Cuban regime, "it was a mistake to ignore for decades the well-founded claims of the Russian Federation for security guarantees and to assume that the Russian Federation would remain defenseless in the face of a direct threat to its national security", he justified again.
Kiev's formal protest with Havana for its support of Russia's invasion was not long in coming. In a tweet published in three languages, Emine Dzheppar, deputy minister of the portfolio in that European country, called on the regime "to urge Russia to put an end to this aggression."
At the end of February, Cuban activist Pablo Enrique Delgado Hernandez, who delivered a bouquet of flowers to the Kiev embassy in Havana in solidarity with the Ukrainian people, was arrested by State Security, subjected to interrogation and threatened.
Delgado Hernandez's stance mirrored that of more than 300 Cuban activists who issued an open statement disassociating themselves from the regime and condemning Putin's aggression.
On February 28, the Cuban regime, along with Russia, Venezuela, China and Eritrea, were the only governments to vote against holding an emergency meeting of the UN General Assembly to condemn Moscow's invasion of Ukraine after the failure of the Security Council.
On March 2, 2022, in a historic decision, 141 countries voted in favor of another resolution condemning the Russian invasion, vs. 35 abstentions (including China, Cuba, Nicaragua, El Salvador, Bolivia, India, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan and Pakistan) and five votes against (North Korea, Syria, Belarus, Belarus, Eritrea and Russia itself).
On that occasion, Havana's position contrasted with its open support for Russia after the invasion, a position that was at times ambiguous, with calls to avoid force for conflict resolution and to return to negotiations.
A month after the war began, Havana again abstained in another vote at the UN General Assembly that demanded the "immediate cessation" of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and "all attacks against civilians and civilian objects."
In May the UN Human Rights Council approved, by a large majority, a decision to initiate an investigation into the atrocities attributed to the Russian troops that invaded Ukraine, in a vote in which the Cuban government again abstained. That same month it voted against a resolution of the annual assembly of the World Health Organization (WHO), which condemned "in the strongest terms" the Russian military aggression and denounced the health emergency it has caused, as well as Moscow's attacks on medical facilities in the neighboring country.
At the end of September 2022, the Cuban regime voted against an address by Ukrainian President Volodimir Zelensky to the UN General Assembly.
"Only seven countries voted against: Belarus, Cuba, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Russia and Syria," Zelensky questioned.
"This coalition … means that peace will prevail over any aggression and that there are no obstacles for us to implement the peace formula," he stressed then.
Before the UN Assembly, Zelensky called for a special tribunal to judge Russia and a system of compensation for the damage done to his country by the invasion of the neighboring power.
The UN General Assembly broadcast Zelensky's expected video address hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a partial mobilization of reservists to boost his war against Ukraine.
The Cuban regime again revealed its sympathies at the United Nations on October 11, 2022, when it objected to a General Assembly vote to condemn the annexation of Ukrainian territories by Moscow via a secret ballot.
Havana voted with Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Syria, China, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Iran, Kazakhstan, Mali, Nicaragua, Zimbabwe and Sudan in support of a petition that was, however, rejected by 107 countries, with 39 abstaining.
The vote that Russia intended to conduct in secret was a U.S.-driven condemnation of Russia's annexation of four regions of eastern Ukraine occupied by Moscow, following referendums held there between September 23 and 27, 2022.
Finally, Havana abstained in a vote in which the United Nations General Assembly condemned Russia for annexing those territories, and which was approved by 143 of the 193 member countries.
The resolution reaffirmed the sovereignty, independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders. It was rejected only by Russia, Syria, Nicaragua, North Korea and Belarus. Cuba abstained along with 35 other countries, including China.
The document approved demanded that Moscow reverse its actions on the status of Donetsk, Lugansk, Zaporiyia and Kherson regions and demanded it withdraw its troops immediately and unconditionally from Ukraine.
Last November 14, the UN approved a decision that Russia should make reparations to Ukraine, with the Cuban regime once again voting against it. Havana opposed the measure along with its Russian ally, and China, Nicaragua, Iran, Mali, North Korea, Syria and Eritrea.
Just this Thursday the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly approved a resolution demanding the "immediate withdrawal" of Russian troops from Ukraine. The Cuban regime again abstained.
With 141 votes in favor, seven against (Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea, Nicaragua, Mali and Syria) and 32 abstentions, the international community adopted the resolution "Principles of the Charter of the United Nations underlying a comprehensive, just and lasting peace in Ukraine".
Echoes of Russian disinformation from Havana's propaganda machine
Days after the beginning of Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the consequent Western sanctions against Moscow, the pro-government Union of Cuban Journalists (UPEC) called the European decision to block the Russian state media Russia Today (RT) and Sputnik, accused of disinformation about the war in Ukraine, a "violation of enshrined rights."
In April of 2022 the official website of Kiev, Ukrinfrom, one of the main sources of information about Ukraine, founded in 1918, was blocked on the island.
The UPEC called for freedom of expression in the face of what it described as Washington's "monolithic narrative" ? while failing to condemn not only Cuba’s silencing of independent media that criticize the regime, but also cultural magazines and Hispanic publications in the United States.
And yet, the UPEC continued to claim that its was a "war against information, against honest journalism and against culture, a war that overthrows concepts and values conquered by all mankind throughout its history."
"They are violating the most elementary democratic principles and demonstrating the dictatorship of big capital in terms of its interests," alleged the UPEC.
"The world faces more than one war and our refusal to accept them must include them all. Disinformation is a crime against culture, and in the present circumstances it favors the rise of neo-fascism and other evils," the statement concluded.
Since the start of the aggression, however, the press through which the UPEC speaks has advanced Moscow's version of the war and has engaged in disinformation on events such as the Bucha massacre, which the Cuban television's Noticiero Estelar described as "a Western lie," parroting Moscow's disinformation.
In early March, the Cuban state television channel Tele Rebelde censored the message condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine that the Spanish soccer league broadcast during its games.
"No to the invasion" was written on the caption ribbon on broadcasts of the Spanish national event, next to the scoreboard. However, Tele Rebelde covered it up during the delayed broadcast of the match between Real Madrid and Real Sociedad of San Sebastian, Guipuzcoa.
Likewise, the official newspaper of the Communist Party, Granma, features a thread with the main news about the conflict, using the Russian media as a source, and the statements of its officials, with the Ukrainian version being almost completely absent.
Havana and Moscow have in recent years reinforced their ties in an attempt to recover the close cooperation they had before the demise of the Soviet Union in 1991.
Russia is one of the top ten trading partners of the Cuban government, and both define their partnership as "strategic."
A few hours before the invasion of the Ukrainian territory, on February 24, 2022, Miguel Díaz-Canel received Vyacheslav Volodin, president of the State Duma of the Federal Assembly of Russia.
An official note appearing in Granma stated that, during the meeting, the Cuban leader "highlighted the excellent state of relations between both nations, while reiterating their willingness to consolidate the high level of political dialogue and exchanges in sectors of common interest, including the parliamentary sphere."
Two days earlier, the Russian Duma agreed to delay until 2027 some payments of the 2.3 billion dollar debt Cuban has with Moscow, although it indicated that it will charge the corresponding interest.