Foreign Policy Research Institute A Nation Must Think Before it Acts Rusal’s Bauxite Mine and Potential Russian Meddling in Guyana’s Election
Rusal’s Bauxite Mine and Potential Russian Meddling in Guyana’s Election

Rusal’s Bauxite Mine and Potential Russian Meddling in Guyana’s Election

On March 6, Guyana’s main state-owned newspaper reported that three “persons with Russian background” had been deported for meddling in Guyana’s March 2 general election. According to the report, Public Security Minister (and candidate for prime minister) Khemraj Ramjattan said that the three Russians were deported on election day over a conspiracy to tap into the Guyanese Election Commission’s computer systems. Several computers and flash drives were reportedly seized. Ramjattan also accused opposition People’s Progressive Party-Civic (PPP-C) politician Winston Brassington and former President Bharrat Jagdeo of speaking with one of the deported individuals. A fourth individual remains on the run, according to Ramjattan.

Is this true? Some claims seem implausible, such as the statement in Guyana’s state-owned newspaper that the American Chamber of Commerce in Guyana helped facilitate the Russians’ operations. But the allegations fit Russia’s modus operandi. The Kremlin has intervened repeatedly in elections across the world. Last year, it meddled in Madagascar’s election, making it clear that no country is too small to be on its radar. The Kremlin appears to have approved increased efforts in Latin America as well. Beyond the well-known Russian role in supporting Venezuela’s Nicolás Maduro, investigative journalists at Proekt also reported last October that Rosatom, Russia’s government-run nuclear company, supported Bolivia’s Evo Morales in his failed attempt to secure reelection. The allegations in Guyana look similar.

Guyana’s election was high-stakes, as it comes just after oil began to flow from the country’s vast offshore fields, which are estimated to hold as much oil as Qatar. Each side has plenty of reason to accuse the other of dirty business. The governing A Partnership for National Unity (APNU), largely supported by the Afro-Guyanese community, held a 33-32 majority in the previous parliament. The two key leaders of the opposition PPP-C, supported by the Indo-Guyanese community, General Secretary Bharrat Jagdeo and presidential candidate Irfaan Ali, differed on whether the Exxon contract should be negotiated. Both have advanced claims that the governing party’s incumbent, David Granger, bungled negotiations with Exxon Mobil.

The United States and many of its allies criticized the government for irregularities in the March vote. As yet, no prime minister has been named. The governing party has obvious reason to allege Russian support, real or imaged, for the opposition.

Yet, there is a case to be made—though no definitive proof yet—for the thesis that Russia sought to tip the scales in the March vote. The Kremlin could potentially be interested in backing the opposition to create an opening for a Russian firm, such as state-owned Rosneft, which has played a large role in neighboring Venezuela. Moscow has also previously alleged that the Guayanse government could be used to host a base to back the overthrow of Maduro.

A second explanation might be Russian aluminum giant Rusal’s spat with the Guyanan government. Relations between the government and Rusal had been contentious for some time. Rusal runs a bauxite mining operation in the country, using the mineral to produce aluminum. The company suspended its bauxite mining operations on February 3 after a dispute with the government, ostensibly over wage disagreements, resulting in over 300 employees getting fired. These operations are carried out by the Bauxite Company of Guyana, in which Rusal owns a 90% stake and the Guyanan government 10%. Rusal alleges “sabotage” operations against its facilities. The government accused Rusal of negotiating in bad faith. No compromise could be reached and Rusal fired 326 employees as it closed the mine.

It is possible that the decision to close the mine was made for business reasons. Guyana’s bauxite production had been falling for a long time, and the facility was a small part of Rusal’s global production. The firm also previously suspended production in Guyana in another dispute with workers last year.

Yet, the timing of Rusal’s decision to suspend mining—just four weeks before the vote—suggests potential political intent. Rusal has a long history of political meddling, from Montenegro to Tajikistan. It was placed under U.S. sanctions in 2018 in part for this reason. Part of the agreement in January 2019 between Rusal and the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) to lift sanctions involved assurances that this behavior would not continue. FPRI continues to follow Rusal’s operations in the country to better understand whether Guyana is the latest addition to the list of far-flung countries in which agents of the Russian security services are meddling in domestic politics.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Foreign Policy Research Institute, a non-partisan organization that seeks to publish well-argued, policy-oriented articles on American foreign policy and national security priorities.