By Ignacio Ramonet – Mar 4, 2022
No country in Latin America unconditionally aligned itself with Russia’s positions regarding its special military operation in Ukraine. They have all defended International Law, United Nations Charter and advocated for a diplomatic agreement to resolve the crisis by peaceful means through effective dialogue that guarantee the security and sovereignty of all, as well as peace, stability, and regional and international security.
In our globalized and interconnected world, a conflict on the scale of the war in Ukraine obviously has planetary consequences. Since the beginning of hostilities, on February 24, the planet’s two nuclear hyperpowers have begun a very dangerous confrontation. Washington, the European Union, NATO and all their allies, including the digital mega-corporations GAFAM (Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft), have now promised, in response to the invasion of Ukraine, to crush Russia, to isolate it, to dismember it.
Consequence: this is becoming a world war of a new kind. A hybrid hyper-conflict that, in its military aspect, is taking place, for the moment, in a precise and local theater: the territory of Ukraine. But the conflict, on all other fronts—political, economic, financial, monetary, commercial, media, digital, cultural, sports, space, etc.—has been transformed into a global and total war.
Latin America is not a relevant actor in the scenario where the main geopolitical tensions linked to the Russia-Ukraine conflict are taking place. Except in its relations with Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua, Moscow does not have, not even remotely, the influence that Washington has always had in the region and that Beijing has recently acquired. To give us an idea, in 2019, for example, South America exported goods and services worth $66 billion to the United States and $119 billion to China, and barely $5 billion to Russia.
Obviously, like the rest of the world, this new global reality impacts Latin America and the Caribbean. Especially because of its economic repercussions. The prices of all those raw materials of which Russia and the Ukraine are major producers have skyrocketed. In particular, oil and gas, but also various metals like aluminum, nickel, copper, iron, neon, titanium, palladium. Some food products as well, such as wheat, sunflower oil, corn. And fertilizers. All countries importing of these items will be strongly affected.
In a global context of rising inflation, these cost increases will contribute, in some nations, to a sharp rise in prices, particularly in transport, electricity, bread and other food products. In Latin American societies that have just been hit hard by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is therefore not impossible that, in several countries, there will be street protests against the spike in the cost of living. Conversely, the countries that export hydrocarbons, minerals, or cereals—for example, Venezuela, Chile, Peru, Bolivia, Argentina, Brazil—will benefit from the current significant rise in prices.
The new sanctions imposed on Moscow and the closure of airspace to Russian planes throughout the North Atlantic will also affect, in particular, the tourist centers of the Caribbean, in particular Cuba and the Dominican Republic. For both countries, Russia was, in 2021, the first and second source of tourists, respectively. The war in Ukraine could make them lose, this year, some 500,000 visitors and billions of dollars.
In recent times Moscow has tried to reach out to the region by various ways, including on the occasion of the health crisis during the COVID-19 pandemic. When the rich countries monopolized the vaccines, the Kremlin knew how to respond: Sputnik-V was the first vaccine to arrive (although not for free) in Argentina, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Paraguay, and Venezuela. In the geopolitical aspect, for years, Putin has provided political and diplomatic support to governments in the region sanctioned by Washington, such as those of Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua, which, as part of their resistance strategy against US measures, have deepened their relations with Russia, including in the military field.
Let us remember that, when the tension was rising in the weeks before the war, there were statements by the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister, Serguei Riabkov, who did not rule out a “military deployment” in Cuba and Venezuela as a response to US policy in Ukraine. To which, the US National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, replied that if Russia moved “in that direction,” the US will “deal” with it “decisively.” In this sense, President Iván Duque of Colombia—the only Latin American country with NATO extracontinental partner status—during his recent visit to the NATO headquarters in Brussels, expressed his concern about the “deepening of cooperation between Russia and China, including its support for Venezuela.” A few days later he stated that he would like to trust that “Russia’s military assistance to Venezuela is not utilized to threaten Colombia.” For his part, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov declared that Moscow will strengthen its strategic cooperation with Venezuela, Cuba and Nicaragua “in all areas.”
In the days that preceded the start of the war, Vladimir Putin successively received at the Kremlin, with great cordiality, two important South American leaders: Alberto Fernández of Argentina, and Jair Bolsonaro of Brazil. The former offered the Russian President that his country be “the gateway” for Moscow to Latin America. Putin replied that Argentina should stop being a satellite of Washington and stop depending on the International Monetary Fund. To Bolsonaro, the Russian president proposed the construction of several nuclear power plants and the revitalization of a technological alliance between the two countries in cutting-edge areas such as biotechnology, nanotechnology, artificial intelligence and information technology.
Days later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Several Latin American leaders—particularly President Nicolás Maduro from Venezuela—declared that they understood Moscow’s exasperation in the face of constant provocations from the US and NATO. But no country in the region unconditionally aligned itself with the Kremlin’s positions. All, ultimately, in one way or another, including Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua, defended International Law, the United Nations Charter, and advocated a diplomatic agreement to resolve the crisis by peaceful means and effective dialogue that would guarantee the security and sovereignty of all, as well as regional and international peace, stability and security.
Despite the intense diplomatic activity by President Vladimir Putin to explain his point of view, in direct telephone conversations with different Latin American leaders, when the moment of truth arrived, on March 2, at the UN General Assembly, on the occasion of the vote on a resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine, Russia appeared singularly isolated. Only four states in the world (Belarus, Syria, North Korea, Eritrea) supported his war against Kiev. In Latin America, he could not get a single vote in favor.
Featured image: Russian President Vladimir Putin with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro, former Bolivian President Evo Morales, and former Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri Al-Maliki. Photo: AFP/Alexander Nemov
Translation: Orinoco Tribune
Ignacio Ramonet Miguez is a Spanish academic, journalist and writer who has been based in Paris for much of his career. After becoming first known for writing on film and media, he became editor-in-chief of Le Monde diplomatique, serving from 1991 until March 2008. Ramonet is one of the founders and president of the NGO Media Watch Global. He frequently contributes to El País, among other media, and participates in an advisory council to TeleSUR.