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International Relations

Opinion: Russia's new world order

Putin's first stop was the World Cup final. His next stop: the BRICS summit in Brazil, and two other nations. This demonstrates the strategic importance of the continent - and a warning for Europe, say DW's Uta Thofern.

To start off with, a quick stop in Cuba - then on to Argentina, in between the World Cup final in Rio; and to top it off, the BRICS summit in Fortaleza. Vladimir Putin's journey made for some nice photos: in Cuba with old-school revolutionary Fidel Castro, who's rarely seen in public anymore, and in Buenos Aires at the side of the debt-plagued Argentine President Cristina Kirchner.

And then there was Brazil: first at Maracanã Stadium, then in an exchange of views with President Dilma Rousseff, who's fighting for reelection - and perhaps the primary role at the BRICS summit in her own country. It seems Putin would like to take that for himself.

Cuba's former President Fidel Castro talks with Russia's President Vladimir Putin during a meeting in Havana in this undated handout photograph released to Reuters on July 11, 2014 (Photo: REUTERS/Cubadebate/Handout via Reuters)

Putin appeared with elusive old-time revolutionary Fidel Castro

The Russian sun king's Latin America trip has been well-staged, and Putin will enjoy his visits to countries that need him. He's tied debt forgiveness to a joint harbor project in Cuba; offered support to Kirchner in her fight against the investment funds threatening to bankrupt Argentina, along with a joint energy project. A friendly boost to Dilma Roussef for improvement of the shared trade balance - and at the same time, the chance for a common appearance as representatives of the multi-polar world order. Where there's a problem, Putin is there to save the day.

Russia is cultivating old alliances - and new dependencies. Latin America plays an important role in Putin's concept of a new world order, and a special allure as it opposes the hegemony of the United States.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev's unabashed statement at the beginning of the year that "Russia has come, and is here to stay" had a deeper meaning. He wasn't referring to strategic partnerships in Latin America - rather to naval bases.

Don't underestimate Latin America

The friendly Russian bear has claws and fangs. But the Latin American puma also has its own claws, only visible when unsheathed. Latin America will not hand itself over to Russia. Women like Dilma Rousseff und Chile's President Bachelet should not be underestimated. Even Argentina's support for Russia's annexation of Crimea was strategic.

Countries like Mexico and Peru have enough self-confidence to not allow their politics to be meddled with. And in the meantime, Russia's former strongest ally Venezuela has become Latin America's problem child. Russia, itself threatened with sanctions, needs its own support.

Russia's flirting with the South American continent is a game with some serious rivals. China, with its huge investments, has long threatened - and is among the largest takers for raw materials. India's freshly elected Prime Minister Narendra Modi will represent his country with renewed confidence at the BRICS summit.

So the question remains: How can Europe, and Germany, remain so pallid? The economic significance of Latin America is undisputed, the cultural parallels huge; yet its political status remains, as it has for ages, far behind that of other regions.

Europe shouldn't be taking traditional good relations to "its" very own "new world" for granted.

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