Whilst Canada has adopted a similar stance to that of the US on Russia's aggression against Ukraine, Mexico's neutral stance on it points to the country’s changing foreign policy
This brief is a part of The Ukraine Crisis: Cause and Course of the Conflict.
The unprovoked invasion of Ukraine by Russia has continued for over a month with the global spotlight placed on President Putin’s next move. The act of violence and aggression has been internationally condemned by the West, particularly by the United States (US). However, Biden’s call for immediate withdrawal of Russian troops has elicited different responses from the US’ immediate neighbours. In particular, the response of Mexico and Canada towards the invasion is not only indicative of their broader foreign policy direction but also creates space for leveraging the US support towards North American interests.
In May 1942, the Mexican Congress had approved a formal resolution supporting the war against the Axis powers, which had led to the US declaring war on Germany. In 2022, however, the Mexican President Andres Manuel López Obrador has stated that Mexico would not assist Ukraine by supplying arms, even after a request was made by the Ukrainian representatives. The two positions are starkly different and shows that Mexico’s position has evolved since the Cold War. The stance on the Ukrainian crisis arises from Mexico’s ‘pacifist’ agenda, with President Obrador claiming that the government does not send guns anywhere. Furthermore, unlike the US, Mexico has reiterated that they would not impose any form of unilateral economic sanction on Russia over the invasion. Though the stance does follow the pacifist narrative Mexico has declared, with growing alliances between Putin and South American states such as Venezuela, Nicaragua, and Cuba, the Mexican restraint could be a point of concern for the US. The Russian influence in Latin America has grown profoundly over the last decade, and Putin has been attempting to create pockets of interests in the continent to counter the US influence. However, to expect that Mexico will abandon the US ties over interests with Russia would be unrealistic. The Mexican and the US economies are deeply tied through trade, diaspora, and culture. The ongoing war between Ukraine and Russia has provided Mexico with a unique opportunity to reassess its larger interests and carve its position by balancing its relations within North America. A major area of concern between Mexico and the US is the issue of migration. Mexico is perhaps not happy with the US’ open stand on the refugee crisis induced by the Ukrainian crisis, whilst being opposed to migrants and asylum seekers from Mexico. Although, President Joe Biden has committed at least US $4 billion to promote development in southern Mexico, from where many Mexican immigrants hope to cross into the US, there has been little progress since the pledge. Whereas, the Ukrainian invasion has prompted the US to dedicate billions of dollars in aid within weeks. Many in Mexico see this as a double standard in the US policy. With over 3 million people fleeing from Ukraine since the invasion, at least 310 Ukrainians have reached Tijuana this month.
The Russian influence in Latin America has grown profoundly over the last decade, and Putin has been attempting to create pockets of interests in the continent to counter the US influence.
Despite the harsh asylum expulsion policies of ‘Title 42,’ several human rights groups have assisted Ukrainians in gaining a protected status in the US for 18 months. This, however, raises questions as several Central Americans have been denied this privilege even under the Biden administration. It is reported that several Colombian and Mexican nationals seeking asylum have been refused irrespective of Mexico registering an increase in Russians fleeing their homeland and arriving in Tijuana. Mexican President Obrador has stated that American bureaucracy has been ineffective in matters relating to Central Americans regarding no leniency in migrant issues, the lack of investment in the area, and poor border control regulations. If such tensions continue Russia may be able to locate its own space in the complex web of the US-Mexican ties. Russian oil company, Lukoil, has already acquired 50 percent operator interests in an offshore oil project held in Mexico. Likewise, Russian airline Aeroflot is interested in Mexico for furthering its global outreach. The Biden administration must be wary of Mexico’s status as a seemingly strong alliance may quickly turn into a geo-strategic point of entry for Russia and complicate the US ties with its Latin American partners, particularly Mexico.
The Canadian perspectives on the matter are quite different from Mexico’s as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has stated support for Ukraine’s sovereignty. This not only aligns with the US policy of condemning Russia, but also provides a context for building closer Ukraine-Canada relations. On 2 December 1991, Canada emerged as the first western country to acknowledge the state of Ukraine, creating a formidable bilateral relationship with a strength of 1.3 million people in the community. Canada has announced that it would match donations made by individual Canadians to the Canadian Red Cross towards the Ukraine Humanitarian Crisis up to US $10 million. This support would not only provide emergency health services, but would also support displaced populations with amenities such as water, food, sanitation, and shelter. Canada has taken a strong view of the deteriorating humanitarian condition in Ukraine. Harijit S. Sajjan, Minister of International Development of Canada says, “The lives of the children of Ukraine have been thrown into chaos. Their classrooms have been replaced by bomb shelters. Their playgrounds have become battlefields…” Canada has allocated an additional US$25 million in humanitarian assistance since the start of 2022.
Canada is following the NATO strategy of dismantling Russian power through economic instruments such as sanctions, empowering volunteers to join Kyiv’s forces, and shipment of arms, vehicles, and other forms of weaponry.
With regards to Russia, tensions between Putin and Trudeau have led to the Canadian Prime Minister being banned from entering Russia in response to the unilateral economic sanctions imposed by Canada. Canada is following the NATO strategy of dismantling Russian power through economic instruments such as sanctions, empowering volunteers to join Kyiv’s forces, and shipment of arms, vehicles, and other forms of weaponry. Though such efforts may not guarantee the removal of forces from Ukraine, this attempt to destabilise Russia is a conventional strategy adopted by the West to avoid any direct confrontation with Russia. Following the footsteps of the US, NATO countries such as Canada aim to impose steep costs on Russia to force it out of Ukraine and limit its global influence. However, the success of such a strategy against Russia should not to be totally relied upon, as strategists have considered the likelihood of Russia absorbing economic and strategic pressure and continuing to invade the territory it claims to be essential to Russian security. With some countries such as Venezuela and Cuba pushing the blame on the US for the situation in Eastern Europe, and countries such as Mexico abstaining from providing aid to Ukraine, Kyiv may be missing out on support from Latin America.
Between Canada and Mexico, two states on the north and south of the US are interestingly positioned very differently on the Ukrainian crisis. While the stand of Canada and Mexico may be representative of their individual interests, it also reflects the differences in the world views of most Latin American countries from that of the North American continent.
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