Latin America’s mixed response to the Ukraine crisis

The situation in Ukraine remains dire as the interim government in Kiev faces the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. At the time of…
Latin America’s mixed response to the Ukraine crisis

Ukrainian border guards prepare for training at a military camp in the village of Alekseyevka on the Ukrainian-Russian border, eastern Ukraine, Friday, March 21, 2014. Russian President Vladimir Putin has signed a resolution approved by parliament to annex Crimea. The Ukraine crisis has triggered mixed reactions from leaders in Latin America. (AP Photo/Sergei Grits)

The situation in Ukraine remains dire as the interim government in Kiev faces the annexation of Crimea by the Russian Federation. At the time of this writing, governments from Washington to London and Berlin are discussing potential responses, including sanctions against Russia.

While Latin America is geographically distant from Ukraine, various Western Hemisphere governments have made official statements reacting and explaining their position on the situation in Crimea. Suffice to say, Latin America is all over the spectrum regarding their support or criticism of Russia’s actions vis-à-vis Ukraine.

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Chile and Mexico

Chile is one of Latin America’s current representatives at the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) – the other is Argentina. Due to this honor, President Michelle Bachelet, who was inaugurated last March 11 as her country’s new leader, has been placed  in the spotlight regarding the Ukraine.

Ambassador Octavio Errázuriz, Chile’s representative at the UNSC, has declared that Chile supported a resolution, proposed by the U.S. that condemned the referendum that took place in Crimea this past March 16. The Chilean ambassador stated that international law demands “the respect of the independence, sovereignty, and the current borders of Ukraine.”

The aforementioned UNSC resolution was ultimately vetoed by Russia. Moreover, through the referendum, Crimeans voted in favor of seceding from Ukraine to become part of Russia.

Meanwhile, Mexico has taken a more neutral position regarding the situation in Crimea. A March 4th press release by the country’s Secretariat for Foreign Affairs called for dialogue between “all actors within and outside of Ukraine involved in this crisis.”

Maduro: Don’t Mess with Russia

On the other hand, the Venezuelan government has taken a more aggressive stance on Ukraine. In fact, when Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych was removed from power this past February he fled to Russia while the Ukrainian congress voted that he was unfit to fulfill his presidential duties – President Maduro used the opportunity to blame the West.

President Maduro stated that Yanukovych’s fall from power was a “Neo-Nazi coup” carried out by extremist groups within Ukraine and orchestrated by the U.S. and NATO.

Such declarations are unsurprising given that the Venezuelan government has accused Washington of fomenting protests in Venezuela to overthrow President Maduro. Three American diplomats were expelled from the U.S. embassy in Caracas this past February.

Moreover, the Venezuelan head of state has come out in support of Russia’s operations in Ukraine. “The U.S. has tried to frighten the great Russia and Putin has come out with his flag of historical dignity,” President Maduro has stated.

Argentina: Crimea = Falklands?

Finally, Argentina has also taken a somewhat bizarre position regarding the Ukraine. President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner has come out to say that the West is applying a “double standard” regarding the Crimean referendum.

Her logic is this: It is hypocritical that Western states have labeled the Crimean referendum as illegal. (U.S. President Barack Obama has declared that the U.S. will “never” recognize Crimea’s secession.)

Cristina Fernandez talks about Ukraine

French President Francois Hollande, right, and Argentine President Cristina Fernandez attend a press conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Wednesday, March 19, 2014.  During her visit to Paris Fernandez says the U.S. is applying a double standard to the crisis in Ukraine. (AP Photo/Christophe Ena)

This hypocrisy forms Kirchner’s point of view: Western powers do not recognize the results of Crimea, but have generally supported the results of the March 2013 referendum in the Falkland Islands. (I discussed the results of the Falklands’ referendum in a March 2013 commentary for VOXXI, explaining that Buenos Aires does not recognize that referendum, arguing that the Falklanders are not indigenous inhabitants of these islands).

Nevertheless, it is important to note that even though President Kirchner does not agree with the West’s critiques of the Crimean referendum, Argentina voted in favor of the aforementioned draft resolution by the U.S. at the UN Security Council.

A March 15 press release by the press office of Argentina’s mission at the UN quotes Ambassador María Cristina Perceval, Argentina’s representative to the UN, who called for “all Ukrainian parts to stop from carrying out unilateral acts that obstruct dialogue.”

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No Unified Stance

As the crisis in Ukraine is not likely to be resolved anytime soon, we will probably see more policy statements by Latin American states and regional blocs on the crisis.

So far, declarations and press memoranda by the countries discussed in this commentary demonstrate that Latin America has no common stance on this crisis.

Moreover, what positions have been put forward revolve around a government’s own ideology or interests as reflected by domestic realities (i.e. Venezuela focused on the coup while Argentina focused on the referendum) rather than the realities of the situation in Ukraine.

At this point, it is highly doubtful that anyone in Kiev, Crimea, Moscow or Washington care much about what Latin American governments think of a crisis on the other side of the planet but that negligence may come back to bite them as Latin American leaders exploit the events in Ukraine for their own ends.

If nothing else, the fact that Latin American states have opinions on the Ukraine and Crimea demonstrate that we live in a shrinking world.

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