US-Mexico Relations Hit New Low Over Russia-Ukraine Conflict

Mexico’s position of neutrality over the Russia-Ukraine war provokes backlash from Washington. 

The U.S. Ambassador to Mexico caused a stir at the tail end of last week when he told Mexican lawmakers that Mexico cannot ever be close to Russia. That is quite literally what Ambassador Ken Salazar’s said in his address to select members of Mexico’s lower house of Congress on Thursday (translated by yours truly):

“I have here (he said while indicating lapels on his jacket breast) the flags of Mexico, the United States and Ukraine. We have to be in solidarity with Ukraine and against Russia.

The Russian ambassador was here yesterday making a lot of noise about how Mexico and Russia are so close. This, sorry, can never happen. It can never happen…

I remember very well that during the Second World War there was no distance between Mexico and the United States, both were united against what Hitler was doing…

When a family is attacked, the family comes together…Between Mexico and the United States there can be no difference, we have to be the same.”

Mexico’s Long History of Neutrality

Salazar’s comments are controversial for a whole slew of reasons. First, Mexico is a sovereign nation and as such should be able to choose which countries it wants to forge close ties with, even if they are the target of U.S. sanctions.

Second, the hypocrisy stinks. U.S. and its European allies have consistently argued that Russia has absolutely no right to try to determine what happens within the borders of its sovereign neighbor Ukraine, even as tons of weapons poured into the country from NATO Member States such as Poland and the Czech Republic. Yet the US Government, through its ambassador to Mexico, is now trying to literally dictate the terms of Mexico’s relationship with Russia.

What the U.S. essentially seems to be saying is that neutrality is not an option in the escalating conflict between Russia and the West — at least not for Mexico.

Which brings us to the third point: Mexico has a long, albeit interrupted, history of neutrality dating all the way back to the early 1930s. In 1939, a neutrality clause was even added to its constitution by the government of then-President Lazaro Cardenas, which also nationalized Mexico’s oil and gas a year earlier. Since then Mexico has enjoyed close relations with many countries that have been targeted by international sanctions, including Cuba, Nicaragua and Venezuela. Mexico’s long-held position of neutrality has also made it a haven for people seeking political asylum, including republicans fleeing Spain at the end of the Spanish Civil War and the emigres of the Southern Cone dictatorships of the 1960s and ’70s.

Lastly, even Salazar’s elicitation of Mexico’s unwavering alliance with the U.S. against Hitler in the Second World War is not entirely fact-based. Mexico did not join the war until 1942 and that was only after a German submarine torpedoed the Mexican oil tanker “Potrero del Llano” in international waters, leading to the loss of 14 lives.

Salazar’s comments came a day after a handful of Mexican congressmen and women belonging to the ruling coalition parties Morena, PT and PRI created a pro-Russian group in the Congress. The guest of honor to the event was Russia’s ambassador to Mexico, Víktor Koronelli, who described the group ‘s formation as “a sign of support, of friendship, of solidarity in these complicated times in which my country is not just facing a special military operation in Ukraine, but a tremendous media war.” 

Souring Relations

It was a provocative move on the part of the lawmakers in question and it didn’t take long for the U.S. to respond. First, Salazar issued its warning that Mexico should never get close to Russia. Then, a few hours later, the chief of U.S. North Command Glen VanHerck testified to the U.S. Senate that Mexico is currently home to more Russian spies than any other country on planet Earth:

“I would like to point out that most of the GRU members in the world are in Mexico at the moment. That’s Russian intelligence personnel. And they keep a very close eye on their chances of influencing the opportunities and access that the United States has.”

As El País points out, the four-star general was answering questions from senators on the Committee on Armed Services. He also claimed that both China and Russia are “very aggressive and active” in the whole area of the Northern Command’s area of responsibility, including the Bahamas and Mexico. While it is highly likely that both Russian and Chinese intelligence services do have a large presence in Mexico, given its geostrategic position, it is hard not to see VanHerck’s comments as a barely veiled threat…

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