The Latin “front”. Does Ukraine have any allies in South America and who is in favor of Russia there?

Kyiv is actively working on gaining support from the Global South in the war with the Russian Federation. Will Latin America take its place among Ukraine’s allies? An article from RBC-Ukraine explains this.

After February 24 of last year, Ukraine has intensified its contacts with the regions of the so-called Global South, and Latin American countries are no exception. The first-ever visit to Kyiv by Guatemalan President Alejandro Giammattei Falla last year holds significant importance in this regard.

For many Ukrainians, Latin America is mostly associated with legendary footballers, drug cartels, dictatorial regimes, carnivals, vast forests, and coffee. However, the countries in this region also play a role in the global agenda. They are new powerful players with strong cards, and together with other Ukrainian partners, they will shape global politics, according to the head of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine, Dmytro Kuleba.

“The more support we have from the Global South, the fewer levers Russia will have to exert pressure, find ways to circumvent sanctions, and maintain control over the occupied Ukrainian territories. We are narrowing its space for maneuver,” explained the minister in his column for RBC-Ukraine.

Latin America is a unique region that combines powerful natural and economic potentials, as well as a relatively high level of development and living standards. It also offers a favorable business climate, one of the highest Human Development Indexes after developed countries, and a significant level of industrial production. Additionally, Latin America is more economically developed, especially in comparison with Africa, with which Ukraine is also fostering relations.

The Russian aggression against Ukraine has also left its mark on Latin America. Food-importing countries, mainly in Central America, suffered from a grain crisis due to the blockade of Ukrainian ports, while Brazil and Argentina, which export agricultural products, emerged as winners. However, they faced challenges in the supply of Russian fertilizers, complicated by anti-Russian sanctions. All of this compels Latin American countries to respond to the situation in Ukraine.

An incomplete strong fist of partners

“Before this war, Ukraine did not have a strong fist of partners. I am glad that now it exists, but it is incomplete. Someone is missing on this united support hand, and I am talking about the African continent, Latin America,” said President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the anniversary of the start of the full-scale war.

If we look at the voting in the United Nations General Assembly, we can notice that around 11-14 Latin American countries consistently support Ukraine’s initiatives. Among Ukraine’s strongest supporters are developed nations like Guatemala and Costa Rica. However, the majority of countries in the region maintain a neutral position regarding the war and Ukraine, although there are overtly pro-Russian countries like Venezuela, Bolivia, and Cuba, known for their poverty and dictatorial regimes. Even they demand an immediate cessation of the war.

See also: Devil’s advocates: how international mediators act for peaceful resolution of the war in the Kremlin’s interests

“We, from Guatemala, bring a message that we are for peace and need to unite efforts to end this war to protect human lives,” said President Alejandro Giammattei Falla during his visit to Ukraine this year, emphasizing that his country would not be a passive observer in the conflict.

After this visit, Guatemala became the first Latin American country to join the coalition for the establishment of a Special Tribunal for Russia. Guatemala also participated at the highest level in the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform in August 2022. Additionally, it became the sole representative of Latin America at the Black Sea Security Conference initiated by Ukraine.

Guatemala’s position has contributed to fostering interpersonal contacts. Contact was established with the current Guatemalan Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mario Adolfo Bucaro Flores, during his time as an ambassador to Mexico.

“We immediately had a good dialogue with Guatemala. The head of Guatemala’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs was the ambassador to Mexico, and we had very good contact. When he was appointed Minister of Foreign Affairs at the beginning of February 2022, he made his first call to Minister Kuleba. Since then, there has been very active dialogue at all levels,” said Oksana Dramaretska, the ambassador to Mexico, Guatemala, Costa Rica, and Belize, speaking to RBC-Ukraine.

Guatemala stands out from other countries in the region because it does not have sentiments towards the former USSR, as the civil war that lasted in the country from 1960 to 1996 was largely fueled by Moscow. The Soviet Union provided weapons to the guerrillas who were fighting against the government forces.

At the legislative level in Guatemala, even communist ideology is prohibited. Therefore, as explained by Dramaretska, any political force that adheres to such values will not even be allowed to participate in elections. As a result, although anti-American sentiments may exist in the country, there are no sentiments towards Russia.

Guatemala also has an unpleasant experience of cooperation with Moscow during the COVID-19 pandemic. Russians “cheated” the Guatemalans out of 80 million dollars when they paid Russia for eight million doses of the Russian vaccine Sputnik V, but the full shipment was never delivered to the country.

“There is a critical mass of such moments that influenced the current leadership of Guatemala in their relations with Moscow,” noted Dramaretska, adding that Guatemala even recalled its ambassador from Russia after the latter’s recognition of the self-proclaimed DPR and LPR.

A similar situation exists with Costa Rica, whose President spent some time living in Kyiv and worked on Eastern European issues during his time at the World Bank. Rodrigo Chaves Robles, who assumed office as President of Costa Rica last May, has already had two phone conversations with the Ukrainian President. The most recent call took place in the middle of May.

Costa Rica joined the establishment of a special tribunal, condemned Russian aggression, and participated in the parliamentary summit of the Crimea Platform.

“Costa Rica’s position is one of statesmanship: we are always committed to upholding the provisions of the UN Charter and strengthen the call for an immediate cessation of hostilities. This absurd war, which has caused chaos and pain in Ukraine, must end as soon as possible for the sake of humanity’s well-being and future,” stated the President of the country’s legislative assembly, Rodrigo Arias Sánchez, at that time.

Costa Rica, being one of the economically most developed countries in Latin America, is the only one in the region to join the anti-Russian sanctions. The country’s government ordered companies to comply with US sanctions against Russian and Belarusian companies and individuals. The restrictions, among other things, affected Russia’s access to Costa Rican ports, markets, and airspace.

However, Russian presence in Latin America remains very high, and this is reflected in the processes within pro-Ukrainian countries as well. For instance, in Costa Rica, the opposition attempted to argue through the Constitutional Court that President Chaves’ political support for Ukraine in the war against Russia violated the country’s declared neutrality.

Russian influence is precisely the element that hinders Ukraine from gaining support from countries around the world, including Latin America. Russian embassies assist in spreading their influence. For example, it is challenging to resolve certain issues with Panama over the phone when the largest Russian diplomatic representation in the region is located there, and the Russian ambassador practically sits “side by side” with the local authorities, explained Dramaretska.

However, in the case of Panama, Ukrainian diplomacy still manages to garner support despite Russia’s significant presence, as evidenced by the country’s voting in the UN. Panama condemned Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine and supported the resolution in favor of the Ukrainian peace formula. Furthermore, in July of last year, Ukraine and Panama agreed to activate dialogue, develop bilateral relations, and trade.

Mexico can be considered a true haven for Russian agents in the region. Recently, the Argentine portal Infobae reported that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador decided to admit several dozen Russian diplomats who were expelled from Europe on suspicion of espionage.

“As for Mexico, its specificity lies in the fact that the position of the President is very strong. He holds decisive power in the vertical structure of authority. However, unfortunately, he adheres to a very far-left ideology and has certain sympathies towards Russia. Specifically in an ideological sense. Russia is still perceived here as the successor of the USSR with all its ideology,” explained Oksana Dramaretska.

Officially, Mexico maintains neutrality regarding the war in Ukraine, although President Obrador condemned Russia’s invasion and even proposed his own “peace plan,” which he promised to present at the UN. His absurd initiative, which involved mediation by India, the Vatican, and the UN, as well as the declaration of a five-year ceasefire between Kyiv and Moscow, was met with a storm of criticism in Ukraine. Ultimately, Obrador never presented the initiative at the UN, and Mexico no longer touched on this issue.

However, despite its stated neutrality, Mexico consistently supports Ukrainian initiatives in the UN General Assembly. But, as the ambassador says, we would like to see Mexico’s greater involvement, particularly in anti-Russian sanctions. Nevertheless, the Mexican government considers that implementing sanctions on a bilateral level would be a violation of neutrality, although, as demonstrated in the case of Costa Rica, it can be interpreted differently.

At the household level in Mexico, there are widespread anti-American sentiments, which also influence the country’s position on Russia’s war against Ukraine, as Kyiv is supported by the US and Western countries. At the same time, representatives of the ruling party express support for Ukraine in private conversations but mention that they cannot do so publicly due to the President’s stance, who has referred to Putin as his friend for a long time.

See also: Peacekeepers from Africa: what is good and bad about their visit

Mexico’s government position is also influenced by political corruption. In 2018, the US accused Russia of interfering in the presidential elections, in which the current Mexican leader emerged victorious. However, currently, the Mexican government is trying to distance itself from Russia and the issue of war ahead of the upcoming general elections in 2024.

Brazil’s position is similar to Mexico’s. The country’s government publicly advocates for an end to the war in Ukraine, but there have been calls for concessions to Russia from Brazilian authorities. In April of this year, President Lula da Silva hinted that Ukraine should give up Crimea to end the war.

In Ukraine, the words of the Brazilian President were received critically; however, they invited Lula da Silva to Kyiv to see what is really happening in the country and how Russia is behaving. Later, Lula stated that it is not up to him to decide who owns Crimea and called on the parties to start negotiations to “stop shooting.”

However, as the Ukrainian Ambassador to Brazil, Andriy Melnyk, commented to RBC-Ukraine, Brazil officially denies having any initiatives or desire to mediate between Ukraine and Russia. According to Melnyk, it is also not appropriate to use “black and white” terms to describe Brazil’s position on the matter.

“Indeed, when it comes to certain rhetoric from our Brazilian partners, especially regarding Russian aggression, it evokes a whole range of emotions among Ukrainians. However, over the past few months, Ukrainian diplomacy, with the help of our European allies who have historically friendly relations with Brazil, has managed to achieve a more thoughtful view from them on the issue of Kremlin’s military invasion,” explained Andriy Melnyk.

An important role in this was played by the visit of the chief diplomatic advisor to the Brazilian President, Celso Amorim, to Kyiv in May of this year. Amorim is one of President Lula da Silva’s closest associates. During the visit, the Ukrainian side, including the President himself, provided him with all the information about the scale and consequences of the war.

However, as Melnyk pointed out, Ukraine does not have illusions about being able to radically change the course of official Brazil. Nevertheless, the ambassador believes that Ukraine will still be able to significantly bring its positions closer. A meeting at the level of the presidents of the countries could have helped in this regard.

The meeting between Zelenskyy and Lula was planned to take place on the sidelines of the G7 summit a month ago, but it did not happen. As the Ukrainian side stated, it was due to scheduling differences. Lula has long been invited to Ukraine; however, as the Brazilian President stated, he currently has no plans to visit either Kyiv or Moscow because “Zelenskyy and Putin do not want peace.”

The Latin American diplomatic front

After gaining independence, Ukraine, much like Africa, initially paid little attention to Latin America, while Russia gradually and pragmatically expanded its influence. However, Ukraine cannot ignore the Latin American continent, emphasized Ruslan Spirin, the special representative of the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs for Latin America, in a conversation with RBC-Ukraine. Besides being a powerful economic, political, and cultural cluster, Latin America also represents over 50 votes in the UN. The support of Ukrainian resolutions in the UN is fundamental for safeguarding and advancing the Ukrainian position in the global community, Spirin noted.

In addition to diplomatic support, Ukraine needs practical assistance from Latin America (as well as from other countries), be it military or humanitarian aid. While nearly all are willing to provide humanitarian assistance, there are certain difficulties regarding the provision of weapons. For instance, Argentina has already sent over 10 humanitarian aid packages to Ukraine.

Western allies of Ukraine, including the United States and Germany, offered to provide military aid to Ukraine to assist in its defense. For example, Brazil has reserves of projectiles for the Gepard anti-aircraft system, which are essential for protecting Ukrainian airspace.

Argentina refused to share weapons with Ukraine, and Chile, which has German Leopard tanks in its arsenal, agreed to assist only with demining efforts. Mexico, on the other hand, completely declined to provide any aid to Ukraine, as it maintains a stance of neutrality.

The refusal of Latin American countries to offer military assistance to Ukraine is not always related to neutrality or a lack of weapons. For instance, Costa Rica does not have its own army at all. According to Spirin, the issue lies in the unique worldview of Latin American countries. They perceive the world differently and do not wish to intervene in the Russian-Ukrainian war in any way.

However, one should not forget about the Russian lobby in this region. Russia holds a quantitative advantage not only on the battlefield but also on the diplomatic front. Since the days of the Soviet Union, Russians have been working to expand their influence in Latin America, successfully building an extensive diplomatic network of embassies, trade missions, consulates, and general consulates. Russia has embassies in more than 20 Latin American countries, while Ukraine has only five.

Furthermore, Russians spread their influence through students who become agents of influence upon returning home, corrupt politicians, journalists, bloggers, their own Spanish-language television channels and media outlets, and even overseas branches of the Russian Orthodox Church.

“All of this can compete with what Ukraine can afford. We have five embassies there, with not 25 diplomats working in each, but only 3 or 5. Can you imagine the difference and the workload on each person and embassy? Clearly, we have an imbalance,” emphasized Ruslan Spіrіn.

Therefore, on the diplomatic front, Ukraine also needs the support of its partners. At the end of June, a meeting of representatives from the Global South with Western partners of Ukraine was held in Denmark, initiated by Kyiv. Brazil, among others, participated in the meeting, which was dedicated to discussing the Ukrainian peace formula. They also discussed the organization of the Global Peace Summit, in which Kyiv hopes to see countries from Latin America participating.

Ukraine is also working on its first strategy for relations with Latin America. This is the second similar document for the regions of the Global South, with the first one being the African strategy approved in 2022. As Spіrіn explained, the President instructed the development of the Latin American strategy at the end of last year, and the work on it is now nearing completion.

“It will be a comprehensive document that covers all spheres and sets the goals of foreign policy for the coming years. We have an ambitious plan to expand our diplomatic resources. This requires funding and a lot of preparatory work. But it needs to be done because we understand that the imbalance is extraordinary. Just as we need additional weapons on the battlefield, we also need additional soldiers — our diplomats — in these countries,” said the special representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine.

In order to improve diplomatic relations and convince the countries in the region to stand on the Ukrainian side, Kyiv also aims to hold a Ukraine-Latin America Summit. At least, President Zelenskyy mentioned this intention in February. In June, the Ukrainian President expressed his desire to visit countries in Latin America to meet face-to-face with their leaders.

However, Zelenskyy’s visit is unlikely to happen before Foreign Minister Kuleba’s announced Latin American tour, as is customary in diplomacy, groundwork needs to be prepared for high-level meetings. The Ukrainian minister’s tour is scheduled for the second half of 2023, but as stated by the spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Oleg Nikolenko, there are currently no specifics regarding this matter.

Despite the power imbalance on the diplomatic “front,” Ukraine still manages to convey the truth about the war to Latin American countries. This is evident, for example, in the voting at the UN General Assembly. However, in order to transition to a diplomatic “counteroffensive,” Ukraine still needs a lot of time and significant resources.

Originally posted by Dmytro Levytskyy on RBC-Ukraine. Translated and edited by the UaPosition – Ukrainian news and analytics website

See also: The battle for the South. Why Africa supports Russia and how Ukraine plans to change it

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