Mexico: Russia’s Valuable Friend In Latin America – Analysis


International relations have always been full of unexpected and strange twists and in the 21st century the dynamics of relations between states and peoples has accelerated. A lot is changing. Alliances are not as strong as they used to be, and neither are enmities. However, it is interesting how often neighboring countries have bad relations while countries that are separated by seas and oceans have good relations.

A complex of historical circumstances has led to the fact that the neighboring countries of the USA and Mexico have bad relations, as well as neighbors Russia and Ukraine. Due to the mutual aversion to America, but also to their specific attractions, there was a steady rise in Russian-Mexico relations.

Recently, Russia has been enjoying cordial and never better diplomatic relations with Mexico. Relations between Moscow and Mexico City include trade, high-tech investments and increasingly close cooperation in multilateral organizations such as the United Nations, the G20 and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC). In recent months, in the context of growing tensions with the US, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has expressed interest in his country joining the expanded BRICS. Mexican Foreign Minister Marcelo Ebrard stated that Mexico shares the vision and values of BRICS and hopes to deepen cooperation with this organization in various fields, especially in medicine and trade. Relations with the Americans have heated up due to the introduction of tariffs on Mexican goods, the migrant crisis at the border and the alleged interference of Mexico in the Venezuelan crisis.

The beginnings of Russian-Mexican relations

Russia and Mexico have bilateral relations that have been going on for centuries. It is true that these relations were mostly superficial, but over time they become deeper because the two countries have more common interests. It may not look like that at first glance, but it really is in reality. In 1806, Russian Emperor Alexander I began an ambitious plan to colonize Alaska and California, which was then under the jurisdiction of the Spanish Empire. That year, Russian explorer Nikolai Rezanov arrived in California to promote trade and ensure food production for the Russian colonies. In 1812, the Russian settlement of Fort Ross was established in what is now Northern California. Russia established official relations with Mexico for the first time in 1890. The following year, the first Russian embassy was opened in the capital, Mexico City, in accordance with the order of Alexander III. Due to tectonic changes in the two countries, namely the Mexican Revolution of 1910-1920 and the October Revolution of 1917 and the resulting Russian Civil War, bilateral relations practically did not exist at the beginning of the 20th century.

This changed after the revolutions in both countries ended as they marked the victory of the left. In August 1924, during the reign of leftist President Álvaro Obregón, Mexico became the first country in the Americas to recognize the Soviet Union. In 1926, the USSR appointed the first female ambassador in the world, Alexandra Kollontai, to Mexico. In 1930, diplomatic relations were severed due to ideological differences. The star of the October Revolution, Leon Trotsky, moved with his family to Mexico in 1936, where he was granted asylum after being expelled from the USSR a few years earlier due to conflict with Stalin. But four years later, even the protection of the Mexican authorities could not save him from the NKVD assassin. In the spring of 1942, Mexico entered the Second World War on the side of the Allies and thus became a partner of Moscow, so diplomatic relations were restored a few months later.

Cold war

Due to its direct land border with the USA and the leftist orientation of Mexico’s leading ruling party, the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), Mexico had important geostrategic significance for the USSR during the Cold War. The Soviets had a large embassy in the central, elite part of Mexico City not far from the American embassy that served as a base for Soviet spies. This is exactly the location where Lee Harvey Oswald “famously” met with a KGB agent six weeks before he assassinated John F. Kennedy in 1963. It was Mexico that was the key country in Latin America that did not impose economic sanctions on Cuba and the entire during the Cold War, it was a base that allowed Cuba to be supplied with essential life necessities in order for the communist island to survive the American trade and financial blockade.

In 1968, the USSR and Mexico signed an agreement on cultural, scientific and economic cooperation. In 1973, Mexican President Luis Echeverría became the first Mexican and non-communist president of a Latin American country to pay an official visit to the Soviet Union. During his official visit to the Soviet Union in 1978, Mexican President José López Portillo signed the Tlatelolco Agreement on behalf of Latin America, which prohibits the testing, use, production and acquisition of nuclear weapons in Latin America and the Caribbean. The Russian linguist, epigrapher and ethnographer Yuri Knorozov played a very important role in deciphering the Mayan script used by that pre-Columbian civilization in Central America in the area of modern Mexico. For his contribution, Knorozov was awarded the Order of the Aztec Eagle in 1994, Mexico’s highest award to foreigners, which was presented to him at a ceremony at the Mexican Embassy in Moscow.

The latest era – high-level state visits

After the dissolution of the USSR at the end of 1991, the United Mexican States continued to maintain diplomatic relations with the newly established Russian Federation. Since then, the ties between the two nations have slowly but surely been on an upward trajectory of cooperation in politics and other fields. In 1996, an agreement on scientific and technical cooperation was signed. Mutual state visits of high officials are frequent. More recently, Mexican presidents Vicente Fox, Felipe Calderon, and Enrique Peña Nieto visited Russia in 2005, 2012, and 2013, respectively. On the other hand, Vladimir Putin visited Mexico in 2004 and 2012. In 2017, the two foreign ministries signed a memorandum of understanding. In February 2020, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov visited Mexico and met with his Mexican counterpart, Marcelo Ebrard. Both foreign ministers discussed current relations between the two nations, and 130 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries were solemnly marked.

In April 2021, Ebrard visited Russia with the aim of promoting bilateral cooperation and establishing priority guidelines for action in the short and long term and for cooperation in the fight against the coronavirus. After the start of the Russian invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Mexican government officially condemned the Russian move and demanded respect for the territorial integrity of Ukraine. Mexico also condemned Russia’s actions in the United Nations Security Council as a non-permanent member of that body. However, just a few days later, a reversal occurred. On March 1, flamboyant leftist President López Obrador announced that Mexico would not participate in any economic sanctions against Russia and criticized censorship of Russian state media in Europe, the US and Canada. In Latin America, Russian media such as RT and Sputnik continued to broadcast content as normal.

Trade exchange and economic cooperation

Mexico is Russia’s third largest trade partner in Latin America. Mutual trade in 2021 amounted to $4.5 billion. Mexicans mainly export cars, motor parts, medical instruments, agricultural equipment, beef and tequila to Russia. Russian exports include artificial fertilizers, chemical and iron products, various raw materials, medical products and medicines, helicopters, military equipment and ammunition. Russia is Mexico’s key supplier of artificial fertilizers such as nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium fertilizers. Rolled steel, aluminum and synthetic rubber are among other important imports from Russia. Trade between the two countries increased by approximately 17% between 1995 and 2021. Russian multinationals such as Power Machines operate in Mexico, and Mexican multinationals such as Grupo Omnilife, Grupo Maseca, Nemak, Cemex, Mabe, Katcon, Metalsa and Gruma operate in Russia.

Mexico is Russia’s 42nd largest trading partner, accounting for less than 1% of total Russian exports, while Russia ranks 44th on Mexico’s list of trading partners. These data show that the trade exchange between the two countries is modest when it is known that, for example, the exchange between Mexico and the USA is more than 700 billion dollars. Nevertheless, Mexico is Russia’s third largest trade partner in Latin America. In 2001 and 2013, the Russians launched Mexican communications satellites into space from the city of Baikonur in Kazakhstan. In 2009, the joint Mexican-Russian Tatiana-2 mission was launched into space. Another joint satellite (Mijailo Lomonósov) between the two nations will be launched in the near future. In 2012, the Mexicans bought Mi-8 transport helicopters from the Russians for USD 20 million. In 2013, an agreement was signed on cooperation in the peaceful use of nuclear energy. In 2021, about 80,000 Russian citizens visited Mexico for the purpose of tourism, and as early as 2014, direct flights between Moscow-Mexico City and Moscow-Cancun were established.

Cultural exchange

Cultural relations are characterized by mutual understanding based on solid historical foundations. Mexican muralists such as Orozco, Rivera, Siqueiros and Tamaya were inspired by the October Revolution, while the great Russian film director Sergei Eisenstein was influenced by Mexican culture and history, resulting in films such as 1930’s ¡Que Viva México! Cultural exchange is ongoing.

In the last few years alone, several editions of the Russian Film Week and the Moscow Days of Culture have been held in Mexico. There was a concert by maestro Valery Gergiev with the Marinsky Orchestra and the Esperanza Azteca Foundation, as well as a large exhibition of the Russian avant-garde painter Wasilly Kandinsky. All these activities had a positive impact on curious Mexicans who know how to appreciate quality art. It is no coincidence that Ciudad de México is one of the world capitals with the largest number of museums.

Similarities between the two nations

There are great similarities between the Mexican and Russian nations, although one would not guess it at first because of the cold Siberian steppe and the warm Mexican coast. Although the Russian national territory is much larger, their population is almost identical: there are about 147 million Russians and 133 million Mexicans. In terms of nominal GDP, they are very close.

According to IMF estimates, in the current 2023, the Russian economy is 11th in the world with 2.06 trillion dollars, and the Mexican economy is 15th in the world with 1.4 trillion dollars. According to GDP per capita, the nations are close. Russia is 63rd in the world with $14,403 per capita, while Mexico is 68th with $12,673 per capita. However, these data are not precisely correct because both countries have large gray economies that are of course not included in the official statistics. This is an indicator of the problems of poverty and crime, which Mexicans and Russians alike struggle with.

Alcoholism is a problem in both countries. The first association with both countries is strong alcoholic drinks: vodka and tequila. Nevertheless, Mexicans cope better with the problem of alcoholism, which is confirmed by the average life expectancy of Mexicans of 76 years, which is about five years longer than that of Russians. Mexico has a more diversified economy, while Russia is still based on the export of natural resources. Both countries have a rich cultural and artistic heritage that is appreciated around the world.

Mutual aversion to the USA

Both nations see the benefits of this alliance. Western sanctions have given the Russians an incentive to import many food products from Latin America that they previously imported from the EU such as cheese, dairy products and meat. The Russians could start importing similar products from Mexico. The cracks and conflicts of the United States with Russia, and more recently the open intolerance of the White House towards Mexico, have opened a large space for the formation of a strategic alliance between Moscow and Mexico City. The Russian government sees López Obrador’s government as an important partner because of his nationalist and anti-American views. Due to the often hostile attitude of American policymakers towards Mexico (portraying Mexicans as criminals and drug dealers, undesirable immigrants, etc.), it is logical that American-Mexican relations are collapsing and that Mexico is looking for fresh alternatives.

US threats to invade Mexico

Many thought that Donald Trump was the biggest obstacle in US-Mexico relations and that once he left, relations would improve. That didn’t happen. Trump has threatened to build a wall on the border, and more recently some American politicians have gone a step further. Emboldened by the immigration crisis, Republicans have raised the stakes. Some of their representatives in the US Congress are calling for a military invasion of Mexico under the pretext of fighting drug cartels.

That’s what Republican representative Marjorie Taylor Greene did recently: “Our US military must take action against the Mexican cartels.” On January 12 of this year, Republican Congressman Dan Crenshaw introduced a bill that “authorizes the use of the United States Armed Forces against those responsible for trafficking fentanyl or fentanyl-related substances in the United States or for conducting other related activities that cause regional destabilization in the Western Hemisphere “. On March 7, Republican Senators Lindsey Graham and John Kennedy held a press conference where they presented the same idea. “If there was an ISIS or Al-Qaeda cell in Mexico that fired a rocket at Texas, we would wipe them off the face of the planet. They (Mexican drug cartels, op. a.) do it thousands of times, and our response is inadequate,” said Graham.

Indeed, when high-ranking American politicians make claims about the use of the US military outside US territory in the fight against drug cartels, then a possible US invasion of Mexico under the guise of suppressing narco-terrorism and defending democracy (the Americans accuse López Obrador of undermining the democratic order) becomes a possible option in some scenario. If there really was an American invasion of Mexico, there is no doubt that it would be a complete failure in the long run, like the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. With the fact that it is questionable whether the Americans would succeed in occupying the entire country because Mexico is still a serious country. It is certain that the American invasion would bring chaos in a smaller or larger form and further increase the supply of narcotics from Mexico to the USA. The American invasion of Mexico took place in 1846-1848 and then the Americans stole half of the country’s territory from Mexico, and the Mexican aversion to the USA has remained to this day.

The bright future of Russian-Mexican relations 

Mexicans will seek protection from Uncle Sam’s imperialism in Moscow. Russia could thus become a major trading partner and energy supplier to Mexico, and could also offer technological know-how and skills in the fertilizer industry and other fields such as oil extraction and refining. For example, Russia’s Lukoil expanded oil production in the Gulf of Mexico in 2017 after receiving two offers from the Mexican government. In addition, Mexico’s attitude towards China is more cautious, which makes Russia a very attractive option for Mexican leaders headed by López Obrador. There has been talk of a free trade agreement between Mexico and the Eurasian Economic Union, but that would likely be a step too far for Mexico in relation to the United States, which remains Mexico’s largest trading partner. Even during the Cold War, Mexican foreign policy makers coined the term “political neutrality”. And this neutrality means that Mexico tries to stay neutral in international crisis issues, as demonstrated by the war in Ukraine.

“We appreciate Mexico’s balanced approach to solving global issues using the principles of multilateralization, non-interference, respect for the norms of international law and peaceful settlement of disputes,” Putin said at the beginning of April this year when receiving foreign diplomats. “We are interested in continuing to strengthen trade, to implement joint projects in energy, the pharmaceutical industry and agriculture. And, of course, we are open to the expansion of scientific, cultural and tourist exchange”, the Russian president continued to emphasize the importance of Mexico for Russia. After the USA and the EU introduced sanctions and closed the door to cooperation, the Russians are trying to open up to other parts of the world. There, Mexico, as the second most populous nation in Latin America and the most populous Hispanic nation on the border with the USA, is an ideal option.

Mexico could thus become a key Russian partner in the New World in the American backyard, just as NATO allies like Poland are for the US in Europe. It is very likely that Mexico could join BRICS in the future. Mexico sees BRICS as an alternative platform to diversify its foreign policy and increase its global influence. The mutual interests of Russians and Mexicans lead to a stronger connection of both nations, and the only losers will be Americans and Europeans. However, regardless of them, it is only a matter of time when Russian-Mexico relations will move to an even higher level, which will once again show the multipolarity of international relations.

Matija Šerić

Matija Šerić is a geopolitical analyst and journalist from Croatia and writes on foreign policy, history, economy, society, etc.

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