As we mark the first anniversary of Russia’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, some major Latin American countries — including Argentina, Colombia, Brazil and Mexico — are taking a shameful position on the war.
While immediately after the invasion they condemned Russia at the United Nations, most of these countries have refused to provide any aid to Ukraine, nor joined international sanctions against Russia. Some of them are now blaming both sides for the conflict, as if Russia and Ukraine shared equal blame for the bloodshed that has reportedly left about 200,000 dead and wounded.
It brings about sad memories regarding Mexico, Brazil and Argentina’s neutrality during much of World War II. They largely stood on the sidelines until they finally sided with anti-Nazi Allied forces just before the end of the conflict. It wasn’t Latin America’s proudest moment.
Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba said in a Feb. 15 video press conference with the Inter-American Press Association that “we call on all leaders of the Latin American and Caribbean region to abandon their so-called neutrality, and to place themselves on the correct side of history.”
Kuleba did not mention any country by name, but he was apparently referring to Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina, whose left-of-center populist leaders have made wishy-washy statements about the invasion.
The leftist dictatorships of Cuba, Venezuela and Nicaragua are openly supporting Russia. Mexico, Brazil, Colombia and Argentina have proposed, in different variations, a cease-fire.
Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador last year proposed a truce of at least five years in the fighting, and the formation of a United Nations mediation commission made up, among others, by the Pope.
Earlier this month, Argentina’s President Alberto Fernandez and Colombian President Gustavo Petro, alongside a group of leftist European politicians, signed a joint statement calling for a cease-fire, followed by negotiations to end the war.
On the surface, a cease-fire sounds like a very worthy proposal. But, in reality, it is a tricky argument that in effect helps Russia’s dictator, Vladimir Putin.
When I asked Ukraine’s special ambassador for Latin America, Ruslan Spirin, about the petition for a cease-fire, he shook his head and described it as totally unfair towards Ukraine.
“Imagine that a neighbor breaks into your apartment, rapes your wife, kills your children, occupies a room and refuses to leave. Would you accept a cease-fire that allows things to stay the same?” Spirin asked us. “Of course not.”
A cease-fire with Russian troops occupying parts of Ukraine would not only be unfair, it would also not guarantee that Russia would not try to seize another part of Ukraine three years down the road, Spirin told me. Russia invaded Crimea in 2014 and eastern Ukraine last year, he reminded me.
“Right now, the only way in which we could reach a negotiated peace agreement is when the last Russian soldier leaves Ukrainian territory,” Spirin told me.
I wouldn’t be surprised if this last statement is a negotiating position by Ukraine, which may be changed down the road.
But its premise is correct: Freezing the situation on the ground as it is — like the Latin American presidents are proposing — would reward the Russian invaders.
What’s more, it’s a blatant contradiction for the presidents of Mexico, Brazil, Argentina and Colombia to constantly proclaim their adherence to the principles of “non-intervention” in other countries’ internal affairs, and at the same time failing to actively support a country that has been invaded by a neighboring power.
Would they call for a cease-fire if the United States invaded a Latin American country, or would they call for an immediate withdrawal of US troops, as they should?
To be fair, the United States has its own share of politicians who are soft on Russia, including former President Donald Trump, Florida Gov. Ron De Santis and other Republican Party isolationists. They wrongly accuse President Biden of providing too much time and money for Ukraine.
The first anniversary of Russia’s invasion should serve as a reminder of the democratic world’s duty to support Ukraine. If countries remain neutral, they will be validating a new precedent for armed invasions, and the world will become even more dangerous.
Don’t miss the “Oppenheimer Presenta” TV show on Sundays at 7 pm ET on CNN en Español. Twitter: @oppenheimer; blog: www.andresoppenheimer.com