Russia is the latest player to show interest in the lithium fields in Bolivia. Under the Salar de Uyuni, the largest salt flat in the world, sits the world’s largest reserves of lithium (approximately half of the world’s reserves.) Interest in lithium is based on expectations that it will become a key ingredient in electric car batteries. Russia’s team of experts is only the last group to express interest in the fields, including France’s Bolloré and Japan’s Sumitomo and Mitsubishi. But the Russian visit highlights an important aspect of international relations today: power vacuums get filled, and quickly at that.
In 2008 Bolivia expelled the U.S. ambassador, declaring him a persona non grata. The U.S. replied in turn by expelling the Bolivian ambassador from Washington. Bolivia officially expelled our ambassador for attempting to overthrow Evo Morales government, but was the capstone of steadily deteriorating relations between the U.S. and Bolivia throughout the Bush Administration.
With the collapse of U.S.-Bolivian relations, other players are stepping in to fill the void. During the boom years, Venezuela was a reliable patron state, and is a more unsteady one now (or until oil prices balloon again.) Russia and China have both increased diplomatic attention on Bolivia as well. The U.S. would benefit by opening up diplomatic relations again. Despite Bolivia’s continued dependence on the U.S. economy, with the Morales government’s focus on state control of resources, U.S. companies will not be able to compete with foreign firms without diplomatic support.
Today Los Tiempos is running an article on a statement from Russia’s ambassador, highlighting military assistance Moscow plans to provide Bolivia in the future.