By Ana Karen Amezcua Contreras *
On February 24th, 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin announced a military operation in Ukraine that has destabilized peace and security in the international system ever since. In his speech, he pledged to defend separatist areas in the east of Ukraine – Donetsk and Luhansk – by demilitarizing the country without occupying it. For the past month, it’s become clear that Putin intends to destroy Ukraine’s government, undermine the confidence and power of its president, Volodymyr Zelensky, recover territory lost after the Cold War – which responds to an imperialist nostalgia –, and most importantly, react to what he considers to be a direct threat to Russia’s national security: the possible incorporation of Ukraine into the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). Putin has been very direct when expressing that if another country acted against Russia, the response would be immediate and would lead to consequences never before experienced in history.
The consequences for Ukrainian society have been devastating, as the death toll increases daily and migration to other countries has grown exponentially since the conflict began. The Russian invasion represents a flagrant threat to international security and a breach of the peace; it has been characterized by the use of force, human rights violations, and aggression against the territorial integrity of a State. Given all this, it is important to ask ourselves what role other countries should take to promote a prompt resolution of the conflict that addresses the concerns of both parties but also punishes violations of international law. Throughout world history, the need to maintain order in the international system has led to the creation of laws that regulate the behavior of States. Without these rules and without sanctions, countries with revisionist aspirations could use military force at any time if they do not perceive that there will be consequences for their actions.
A few days after the beginning of the invasion, the Permanent Representative of Mexico to the United Nations, Juan Ramón de la Fuente, said at a U.N. Security Council Meeting that Mexico would advance a joint draft resolution with France to promote the cessation of hostilities, the protection of civilians, and that it would guarantee access to humanitarian aid. Two weeks ago, the U.N. General Assembly adopted this resolution, by a vote of 140 countries in favor, 5 countries against and 38 countries abstaining. The resolution adopted calls for the protection of civilians within Ukraine and their unhindered passage, the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the protection of refugees in neighboring countries. Despite being thousands of miles away, Mexico itself has received a sizable number of Ukrainian refugees fleeing the Russian invasion with the hope of reaching U.S. territory. White the U.S.-Mexico border already is facing a migration crisis, Ukrainian refugees have overall been well treated -both by Mexican authorities and volunteers- as they await to request asylum in the U.S.
On the political front, the decision by some Mexican legislators to create a Mexico-Russia Friendship Group in March has risen some eyebrows in the U.S. Given the invasion of Ukraine, the timing for creating such group has been highly questioned particularly because it was in direct contradiction to Mexico’s position in the U.N. condemning Russia for its actions. The very own Russian Ambassador to Mexico, Víktor Koronelli, was present during the event when the group was announced and saw it as a sign of support. In fact, Mexican legislators should have used the moment to condemn Russia’s violations to international law. Immediately afterwards, the U.S. Ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, reacted immediately saying that Mexico should stand in solidarity with Ukraine and not the other way around. On the same week, the head of the U.S. Northern Command, Glen VanHerck, said the largest number of Russian military intelligence personnel in the world was deployed in Mexico. President Andrés Manuel López Obrador responded to these statements saying that Mexico is a free, independent, and sovereign, not a colony of Russia, China, or the U.S.
On April 7th, Mexico abstained from voting at the General Assembly of the United Nations on the suspension of the rights of membership of the Russian Federation at the U.N. Human Rights Council. According to Ambassador De la Fuente, the central point must be to bring those responsible to justice, not to suspend a State from its membership in a subsidiary body of this assembly. Despite Mexico’s abstention, Russia was suspended from the Human Rights Council, being the first time in which a permanent member of the Security Council is sanctioned in this manner. There were 93 members who voted in favor, 24 were against, and 58 abstained. The suspension comes after the senseless and arbitrary atrocities committed by Russian soldiers in the Ukrainian town of Bucha, which have provoked great outrage around the world. Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Pesk, said that they were sorry for the decision taken, but that Russia would continue defending its interests using every possible legal means. From one perspective, Mexico’s abstention is yet again contradictory with its multiple pronouncements in favor of Ukraine and the human rights agenda. From another, it can be seen as a strategic diplomatic decision in line with the country’s foreign policy principles.
Mexico and the U.S. are close allies and share values on human rights, multilateral organizations, humanitarian assistance, and respect for the rule of law. Therefore, in a situation of such magnitude, it is necessary to promote joint actions that further the resolution of the conflict promptly and with the well-being of Ukrainian citizens always in mind. This is a complex issue that involves a long history, geo-strategic interests, and balance of power struggles in the international system. At the end of the day, Mexico’s position on the Ukraine-Russia conflict is the sole decision of the current Mexican government. However, it must adhere at all times to Mexico’s foreign policy principles. The government should also be consistent with its positions and actions, as well as their timing, so that they demonstrate that, in effect, Mexico is a country that supports the self-determination of peoples, non-intervention, the peaceful settlement of disputes, the prohibition of the threat or use of force in relations legal equality of States, international cooperation for development, as well as respect, protection and promotion of human rights, and the struggle for international peace and security.
* Ana Karen Amezcua Contreras is a master’s student in Political Science at El Colegio de México, for which she was awarded the Sasakawa Young Leaders Fellowship Fund.The US-Mexico Foundation, a binational non-profit organization dedicated to fostering bilateral cooperation and improving the understanding between the United States and Mexico by activating key people in the relationship that once were dormant. Twitter: @usmexfound