New GIGA Focus Latin America | The War in Ukraine and Latin America: Reluctant Support

The War in Ukraine has highlighted the divisions within and between Latin American countries. Although the Russian invasion of Ukraine goes against international norms endorsed by Latin American countries, the conflict seems remote and evokes long-standing rejection of United States policies. Notably, both regional powers, Mexico and Brazil, were reluctant to join the Western condemnation of Russia.

– Both the left-leaning Mexican president Andrés Manuel López Obrador as well as Brazil’s far-right president Jair Bolsonaro have maintained the traditional position of autonomy and neutrality that has characterised their countries’ diplomatic histories.

– The Russian argument that NATO went too far in penetrating its security perimeter finds broad echo in Latin America. Paradoxically, such realist reasoning accepts the old geopolitical theory of great powers’ “spheres of influence,” which contradicts the autonomist theories historically endorsed by Latin American governments vis-à-vis US power.

– The war, and especially the sanctions on Russian hydrocarbons, have triggered fuel-price hikes, stimulated a rapprochement of the US with Venezuela, and altered the latter’s tense relationship with neighbouring Colombia, easing conditions for the restoration of bilateral relations.

Policy Implications:

Those interested in maintaining relations with Latin America should take note of the divide among the region’s governments, many showing only reluctant support for the West’s anti-Vladimir Putin policies. The insistence on foreign policy autonomy here cannot be understood as an articulated regional project but rather serves as a discursive framework which allows each government international room for manoeuvre, favouring relations with multiple external actors.

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