During the emergency special session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) on March 2n/a, only five Latin American states have renounced their condemnation of Russian military operations in Ukraine. Although none voted “against”, four abstentions Bolivia, Cuba, El Salvador and Nicaragua, as well as Venezuela’s refusal to participate in the vote, have raised questions about their position in the crisis. Composed of left-wing, even populist regimes, recurrently sanctioned because of allegations of human rights violations, these states, openly antagonistic to American hegemony, have long relied on Russian supplies of military equipment. , financial support through loans and hydrocarbon imports, and on rhetorical validation, while some relationships are reminiscent of the Cold War era. Here, again geopolitics East European policy implications reflected in the space of Latin America, for example, the recent statement by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borisov Latin America tour, especially Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, to woo regional partners and lay the groundwork for support, however rhetorical, in the face of rising tensions in the region. So what are the positions of these states on the Ukrainian question? And what is at stake for them?
La Paz claimed that the escalation of the conflict was caused by “lack of dialogue and understanding”, while avoiding naming Russia directly. Here, Bolivia reconstitutes its neutral tradition while disapproving of the sanctions imposed by the West on Russia. As Freddy Mamani, Deputy Minister of Foreign Policy, said, the international community should “not to guarantee the security of some to the detriment of the insecurity of others”. Bolivia’s failure to condemn Russia comes as no surprise, given its synchronicity in previous international conflicts, especially on the 2014 Crimean issuewith Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, and during Bolivia’s non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council (UNSC) on the Syrian question in 2018. Such positions expose La Paz’s efforts to court Russian concessions in economic and security cooperation. Specifically, since 2006, Bolivia’s rebukes to Russia have highlighted natural gas, oil and lithium exploration, primarily conducted by the Russian state-owned company. Gazprom. Similarly, Bolivia has long sought military modernization through the arms trade with Russia, to fight against the purposes of drug traffickingbut these agreements have dragged on for years.
Since the restart of bilateral relations with Russia in 2008, cooperation in infrastructure and industrial investments, and the financial loans provided a lifeline for the Cuban regime to mitigate the effects of a US-led economic blockade. Thus, the Cuban ambassador to the UN, Pedro Luis Cuesta, fiercely accused the United States and its allies of influencing the Ukrainian government to launch a military operation against Russia; thus, Cuba describes Moscow’s behavior as reactive, if not preventive against the gradual enlargement of NATO. Here, Cuban rhetorical support for Russian military operations appears as a way to ensure continued economic and diplomatic sponsorship. More specifically, these declarations were ephemeral after the ratification by Russia of the agreement of defer payment of more than $2 billion in debt until 2027 after Yuri Borisov’s visit on February 22. Developments related to the Kremlin’s opposition to the West have already reverberated in the Caribbean, for example, the stopover in Havana Bay by the Russian warship Viktor Leonov SSV-175 in 2014. More urgently, the redeployment of Russian military means in the region is “neither confirmed[ed] nor exclude[d]”, as recently stated Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov.
El Salvador’s relations with Moscow are the least expressive among abstainers. So far, El Salvador’s foreign ministry has avoided any official comment on the matter, representing its preference for neutrality, if not its disinterest in European power politics. For example, El Salvador also abstained from a collective statement offered by Guatemala to the Organization of American States on February 25.and condemning Russia’s actions as “illegal, unjustified and [an] unprovoked invasion of Ukraine ». However, its absence was noted. Josep Borrell, the Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, called for a clearer position from President Nayib Bukele, urging El Salvador to follow the majority of the international community and “opt for a total agreement “. isolation of Russia and hold President Putin responsible for this aggression”.
Managua’s abstention from the UNGA was expected, where President Daniel Ortega’s assertive remarks praised Putin’s actions while blaming NATO’s expansion efforts. Jaime Hermida Castillo, Nicaraguan Ambassador to the UN, condemned the economic and political sanctions of the United States and its allies, noting that NATO “was dropping bombs of mass destruction against the Russian Federation”. Nicaragua has always supported Russia’s position on geopolitical issues in the region, for example, Ortega was quick to recognize South Ossetia and Abkhazia when they broke away from Georgia in 2008. In exchange for political support, Moscow maintained its position as the main supplier of military equipment to the Nicaraguan regime, a total of $143 million since 2009 (more than 90% of the total weapons supply), consisting of TIGR armored cars, T-72 tanks, Mi-17 helicopters, among other weapons. No doubt under the assumption of security cooperation focused on counter-narcotics operations, especially Moscow-backed operations drug center, security relations have fostered joint training projects with Russian and Latin American state agents. A crucial factor in the relationship is Access from Moscow to the ports of Nicaragua with the addition of naval patrols, a necessary appendage for a potential, but limited, force projection in the region.
Nicolás Maduro also condemned NATO “destabilizing actions against Russia” during a phone call with Putin in early March. Héctor Constant, Venezuela’s ambassador to the UN, clearly backed Moscow at the UNGA session by refusing to participate in the vote while calling NATO enlargement a ‘progressive hostile attitude against Russia and its territorial integrity”. Emerging as a strategic move to offset US sanctions stemming from the Hugo Chavez era, Caracas quickly became Russia’s main strategic cornerstone in South America, resulting in expressive weapon imports as well as joint naval exercises. Here, Maduro’s hosting of Russian nuclear-capable TU-160 strategic bombers in 2013 and 2018and a possible redeployment of military in Venezuela, are conducive to supporting Russia’s strategic power projection activities in the Western Hemisphere, Washington’s backyard. Russia has a constant presence as an investor in the Venezuelan hydrocarbon sector, in particular oil exploration by Rosneftwhich in turn, coupled with financial loans and diplomatic support, were key to keeping the regime afloat, especially under heavy criticism from Washington amid the Venezuelan crisis in 2019.
The general explanation for the refusal of a few specific Latin American states to condemn Russia’s aggression in Ukraine is mainly geopolitical and ideological. These five states have long operated on the fringes of the US regional orbit, even in isolation. Thus, the survival of regimes so often described as authoritarian rests on the longevity of Russian financial cooperation, such as Cuba and Bolivia, and more importantly, on security and diplomatic patronage, such as Venezuela and Nicaragua. Similarly, with regard to major regional powers, although supportive of the UNGA resolution, Mexico, Brazil and Argentina handpicked lukewarm statements to avoid upsetting Russia. Mexico, while showing empathy for Ukraine, refused to impose economic sanctions on Moscow. Likewise, following President Alberto Fernández visit to RussiaBuenos Aires also refused sanction russiapotentially due to his high hopes of fulfilling the promised strategic cooperation with Putin confirmed in 2015. President Jair Bolsonaro, also back from his visit to Moscowwould have preferred more UNGA balanced statementwhile concerns about Russian fertilizer imports is identified. In turn, the United States seems perplexed with their positions, especially on Bolsonaro’s statements ‘we [Brazil] stand in solidarity with Russia”, while Washington was certainly hoping for greater support from its main non-NATO allies, Brazil and Argentina. Finally, should Russia’s position deteriorate along its European periphery, Venezuela and Cuba could be mobilized again, as happened in 2008 and 2014 due to the crisis in Georgia and Crimea respectively, to leverage Moscow’s position via geopolitical pressure on the United States through an escalating military presence in the Western Hemisphere and in America’s backyard.