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Which side are we on? Ukraine, Russia, Mexico

29 March 2022

Joel Hernández Santiago, writing in ElComunista (a Spanish site, which includes a lot of nostalgia for the Soviet Union, and the Russian state, but often enough including insight on Latin American news and social movements) considers the question of not so much what “side” Mexico backs, but which, if either, it can.

Not a direct translation, but more a selected reworking:

In the midst of tangled interests, there are key countries … on one side, the European nations, and the United States, and NATO. so hated by Putin and invoked by those leaning towards the Russians.

Historically, the United States sees Mexico as its national security zone. The country to its south is constantly watched by its agents swarming through Mexico with or without government permission to guarantee the integrity and security of the United States and its inhabitants.

Not that Mexico is always an ally. During the First World War, the Zimmerman Telegram suggested pro-German leanings, although during the Second War, Mexico sided with the United States and, with the famous Squadron 201, took an active part in the fighting [although the author doesn’t mention it, during the First War, Mexico was in no position to side with anyone, in the middle of its own civil war/revolution, and in the Second, Mexican ships had been sunk by German U-boats].

One might expect Mexico to reflexively side with Ukraine* However, at this time, it has opted for ambiguity. On the one hand, from the National Palace, it denounced what it called a Russian invasion. In the UN Security Council, of which the Mexican government is a part, it has called fro peace, and aligned with those nations that reject Russian belligerence.

But at the same time, the Mexican federal government has demonstrated that it does not want to give Russia a cold shoulder, holding back from joining those nations criticizing Russia and any actions taken against the government of Vladimir Putin. In this, Mexico alligns itself with more pro-Russian countries in Latin America: Venezuela, Cuba, Nicaragua, Bolivia, etc.

But Mexico has a huge disadvantage: it is the neighboring country – border to border – of the US and this is a problem for everyone in Mexico. This is because the United States does not want and it seems that it will not allow its neighbor — a sovereign nation — to decide to support the Russian government. So in a sense, the United States has declared war on Mexico.

The Americans, from their Secretary of State, have expressed “concern” about the Mexican government’s proclivity towards the Russian government. A delicate situation:

On Thursday, March 24, Glen VanHerck, head of the US Northern Command, in a statement to the US Senate Armed Services Committee stated: “The Russian military espionage agency (GRU) currently has more intelligence officers deployed in Mexican territory than in any other country in the world with the ultimate goal of influencing decisions made by the United States.” He added that the Kremlin is seeking to gain access to the US from Mexico.

On 23 March, almost at the same time as General VanHerck was giving his testimony, Ken Salazar, the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, expressed strong condemnation of a meeting in the Chamber of Deputies of a Mexico-Russia friendship group promoted by the Labor Party (PT) and with the participation of some legislators from different parties, including Morena.

The US Ambassador presumed a Legislative event could not take place without at least the consent of the Executive, and questioned the presence of Russian diplomats a month into the invasion “We have to be in solidarity with Ukraine and against Russia,” Salazar claimed. “The Russian ambassador was there yesterday and said that Mexico and Russia are close, that can never happen,” he warned.

Of course, the Mexican government has the right to sympathize and support whoever it considers to be right or whoever it sees as an ally in defense of its own internal interests. Even so, the Mexican government must measure its own economic and political forces –and even military ones– when deciding its support in critical moments such as those the world is experiencing today.

The confrontation between the two powers: the US and Russia, see Mexico as a strategic part of their interests because it is a neighbor of the United States, which wants to maintain its own security at all costs in Mexico; the Russians want or will try to harm the United States through the south of that country.

Will Mexico be allowed to maintain neutrality? Most likely not. And that is a very high risk for Mexicans. But it is also true that what is happening outside of Mexico is a war that is not a Mexican war.

The Mexican government has to make extremely careful decisions in defense of national peace, integrity and security. It is a critical moment and the government of Mexico must act above all in Mexican interests and preserving its own security

* Some thoughts:

Given the present government’s return to the “Estrada Doctrine”(supporting neutrality and territorial integrity regardless of the type of government of any nation) and its constant reference to Benito Juarez’ “dictim” that “The respect of the rights of others is peace.”… it is somewhat surprising that Mexico has not been more active in condemning Russia’s territorial penetration into Ukraine. However, Mexico’s anti-invasion calls, especially in the build-up towards the Second World War, were favoring neutral nations… Ethiopia, Austria, Chechoslovakia… not those seeking to join some military alliance, as is (presumably) Ukraine.

And… considering Mexico’s own experience with having territory forcibly annexed (by the United States) one might assume open support for the Ukrainians would be the natural course.

HOWEVER… consider alternative, and equally traumatic… Mexican historical events. The Zimmerman Telegram was admittedly (by Zimmerman, and by British Intelligence) a provocation, meant to use Mexico as a pawn in a “Great Powers” game. One that would have either meant still more chaos (and possibly invasion and occupation) had it been taken seriously (I don’t think it ever was) by convincing the United States to preemptively invade Mexico, and/or keep its troops out of the French-British alliance. Or… as it turned out thanks to skillful spin by the British, to maneuver the United States into that alliance.

A more recent event, the long-standing Cuban Boycott and subsequent sanctions also comes to mind… Mexico was expected to automatically support the United States, despite 500 year old cultural and economic ties to the island nation. And… as throughout the previous century, the obvious abuse of Latin American independence and sovereignty by the United States, and the rather minimal “footprint” of Russia on the region.

Finally, the US is always going to find some “problem” with Mexico. That it wants to go hunting for “Russian agents” or is likely to “sanction” some Mexican politicians who see nothing wrong with maintaining friendly relations with a country that isn’t an existential threat, may be inevitable, but better than some historic alternatives.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. MARS permalink
    30 March 2022 6:11 am

    Wrong conclusion:

    “And… considering Mexico’s own experience with having territory forcibly annexed (by the United States) one might assume open support for the Ukrainians would be the natural course.“

    On the contrary, we see the interests of the US in Ukraine, and because we got our territory stolen by the US, our natural position is to be anti American. We hope Russia takes away your puppet state and erodes all of your influence across the world.

    • 30 March 2022 3:39 pm

      The existential dread of the US has to be considered, and you’re absolutely right to say “… our natural position is to be anti American”, although that has at at same time garnered some sympathy for those nations who face a similar threat of territorial annexation. Whether that sympathy is deserved, or is being manufactured, I don’t know. What seems clear, though, is Mexico has to walk a very fine line, between the anti-American sentiment and the political /economic realities.

      And, when we come down to it, Russia and Ukraine really don’t much affect Mexico one way or the other. Or that it has much control over.

  2. Chris Kellogg permalink
    2 April 2022 7:10 pm

    Did Mexico ship oil to Germany til 1942?

    • 2 April 2022 10:33 pm

      No. Some was smuggled (via an English “broker”) in 1939-40. Read Mary Jo McConahey’s “The Tango War” for more information.

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