Russia-Ukraine conflict and Cuba

by Bui Minh Long

Unlike Cuba, Ukraine has different geopolitical and historical contexts that shape its foreign policy.
On October 6, 1973 the Egyptian and Syrian armies launched an attack on Israel, from the north and the south. The US began intensive diplomatic efforts to secure an agreements between Israel, Syria and Egypt, and offered the three nations millions of dollars to reach such deals.
Then U.S. President Richard Nixon ordered a mass airlift of tanks and ammunition to the Jewish State. The war, known to Israelis as the Yom Kippur War, and to Arabs as the October War, lasted 18 days, while the airlift lasted for 32 days.
For the current war in Europe, the conflict in the Middle East may affect the Ukrainian efforts to be funded by Washington, while the US would likely divert some of its resources and attention from Ukraine to Israel, as both allies are facing threats from their enemies. This could reduce the amount and quality of US military and economic assistance to Kiev, which is crucial for its defense and development. According to the book “Khi Dong Minh Thao Chay” (“When Your Ally Cuts and Runs”) by Nguyen Tien Hung, U.S. military aid to the Republic of Vietnam during the period of the Yom Kippur War, fell from $2.1 billion in 1972-1973 to just $700 million in 1974-1975.
The total US aid to Ukraine since the war broke out in February 2022 is more than $75 billion, which includes humanitarian, financial, and military support. This figure does not include all war-related US spending, such as aid to allies. The US has committed approximately $5.3 billion in security assistance to Ukraine since the beginning of the Biden Administration, including approximately $4.6 billion since the beginning of Russia’s unprovoked attack on February 24. The US has also provided more than $1.5 billion in humanitarian assistance to respond to the needs of people in Ukraine and those who have fled to neighboring countries.
A poll by the APM Research Lab showed that 24% of Americans agree that the U.S. should provide more military aid to Ukraine, down from 33% in April 2022. This decline is mainly driven by Republicans, who are more likely to say that the U.S. is giving too much support to Ukraine. The poll also shows that Americans are divided over President Biden’s handling of the situation, with 44% approving and 43% disapproving.
But financial support does not necessarily determine the success or failure of a war. History shows that there are many examples of wars where the side with less financial resources won against the side with more financial resources. For instance, in the American Revolution, the colonists defeated the British Empire despite having less money and military equipment. In the Vietnam War, the Viet Cong and North Vietnam resisted the U.S. intervention despite being vastly outspent and outgunned.
The Vietnam War, as it is commonly called in the US and other Western countries or Resistance War Against America (American War) in Vietnam, and the Russia-Ukraine conflict are two different conflicts that have some similarities and differences. However, in perspective of supporting each other during war, Vietnam and Cuba ties are indeed very special and exemplary in international relations. Hanoi received supports from its allies and partners, mainly China and Soviet Union, but Cuba was also one of the truly friend to the South East Asian nation at that time.
In the 1970s, Vietnam went through a brutal war, but they still had the companionship of the Cuban people. The Caribbean country on the other side of the hemisphere supported Hanoi both materially and spiritually. For instance, La Habana sold tens of thousands of tons of sugar for foreign currency to send to the South Vietnam Liberation Front, as well as sent many engineers, workers, doctors, and healthcare workers along with medicine and medical equipment to help treat the Vietnamese people.
Cuba’s aid to Vietnam is motivated by a sense of solidarity and friendship, as well as a desire to promote cooperation and development among socialist countries. “For Vietnam, Cuba is willing to shed its blood”, said by Cuba’s late leader Fidel Castro, may become the most unique motto in history that defines an international relationship. During his first official visit to Vietnam in September 1973, despite the dangerous situation ongoing, the Cuban President visited the liberated area of Quang Tri, one of the fiercest battlefields in the modern world war history. He and his government donated to Vietnam five socio-economic projects with a total value of about $80 million USD, including: Thang Loi Hotel, Ba Vi Cattle Farm, Son Tay-Xuan Mai Road (Hanoi), Vietnam-Cuba Hospital (Dong Hoi, Quang Binh), and Luong My Poultry Enterprise.
The Cuban government also decided to spend more than $6 million USD to buy equipment and helped Vietnam to expand the Ho Chi Minh trail. They also advocated for Vietnam’s membership in the United Nations and lobbied other countries to support its application at the 32nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in 1977. Throughout the 1980s-1990s, despite facing many difficulties, especially against U.S. embargo policies, Cuba continued to provide medicine, vaccines, food for Vietnam.
Ukraine, on the other hand, has different geopolitical and historical contexts that shape its foreign policy. Ukraine is located in a strategic region between Europe and Russia, and has been a subject of competing interests and influences for centuries. Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union in 1991 was followed by a period of economic and political instability, as well as unresolved territorial disputes with Russia over Crimea and the Donbas region. Ukraine’s attempts to integrate with the West, especially the European Union and NATO, have been met with resistance and hostility from Russia, which sees Ukraine as part of its sphere of influence and a buffer zone against NATO expansion.
Meanwhile, it seems that Kiev is facing a challenging situation, as it needs more financial support to cope with the ongoing conflict with Russia and the economic crisis caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. Western countries are becoming less willing to provide aid to Ukraine as they have their own problems and priorities.
Ukrainian Finance Minister Sergey Marchenko even admitted that the number of nations willing to give Kiev money is “growing smaller and smaller” as Western countries shift their focus to domestic issues and other political tensions. This is where the differences of supporting and companions come in.

Bui Minh Long, managing editor of Tien Phong daily newspaper, Vietnam.