Zelenskyy's visit to Latin America: What is Ukraine's position in the region?

Zelenskyy's visit to Latin America: What is Ukraine's position in the region?

What happened?

On December 9, President of Ukraine Volodymyr Zelenskyy travelled to Argentina to attend the inauguration of new President Javier Milei. This is Zelenskyy's first visit to Latin America since the start of the full-scale invasion. 

On his way to Argentina, he met with the Prime Minister of the African Republic of Cape Verde, José Ulisses de Pina Correia e Silva. This meeting was the first in the history of bilateral relations between the two countries, although Cape Verde supports Ukraine at the UN and votes for resolutions important to Ukraine. 

While in Argentina, the President of Ukraine met with the presidents of Uruguay, Ecuador and Paraguay. Zelenskyy discussed ways to develop trade between the two countries with the President of Paraguay, the prospects for holding a Ukraine-Latin America summit with the President of Uruguay, and bilateral cooperation in the security sector, digitalisation, and agricultural trade with the President of Ecuador.

The new President of Argentina and his attitude to Ukraine

The new President of Argentina, Javier Milei, considers the United States and Israel to be the main guidelines in his foreign policy. He advocates a radical reduction in cooperation with Brazil and China, Argentina's main trading partners. He calls China a "murderous" country and Brazilian President Lula da Silva a "corrupt communist".

Milei expressed his position on Russia's war against Ukraine on March 1, 2022. At that time, he unfurled the flag of Ukraine at a parliamentary meeting. 

Javier Milei also assured that he did not intend to cooperate with Russia. He stated that under his presidency, the country would not join the BRICS, an alliance of Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa. Russia responded by saying that they still planned to maintain relations between Moscow and Buenos Aires.

What did Zelenskyy and Milei talk about?

As part of the inaugural events, the two presidents discussed the implementation of the Ukrainian Peace Formula. Zelenskyy invited the Argentine side to participate in a meeting of national security and foreign policy advisers on the implementation of the Peace Formula to be held in January 2024 and the preparation of the first inaugural Global Peace Summit. 

Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Javier Milei also discussed steps in the preparation of the Ukraine-Latin America summit, which "will open a new page in Ukraine's relations with the countries of the region".

Latin America as a vector of Ukraine's foreign policy

Last year, Oleksandr Kraiev, an expert researcher on North America and the UK at the Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism", said during the "Year in Review" marathon held annually by the online media outlet Svidomi that Ukraine had problems with the countries of the Global South (Africa, Asia and South America), primarily in the information sphere. 

These countries believe that Ukraine is a "puppet" of the West, following the US lead. In their eyes, Russia remains a good USSR that helps the poor. At the same time, Ukraine is not doing enough to address these perceptions. 

In early 2023, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said that Latin America would be a priority for Ukraine's foreign policy this year. Later, Kuleba announced the possibility of a tour of Latin America. He had previously made a similar tour of Africa. 

We have heard a signal from the Brazilian side, and we will actively work with them. As well as with other countries in the region. In fact, this year Latin America will be our priority. This is the last region of the world that we have not yet thoroughly covered,

Kuleba said.

The tour was supposed to take place in the second half of 2023, but it did not happen.

Nevertheless, Ruslan Spirin, Special Representative of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine in Latin America, stated that Ukraine was working on its first strategy for relations with Latin America.

It will be a comprehensive document that covers all areas and defines the goals of foreign policy for the coming years. We have an ambitious plan to expand our diplomatic resources. This requires money and a lot of preparatory work. But it has to be done because we understand that the imbalance is extraordinary,

the Foreign Ministry's special representative said.

"Moscow's advantage"

Former Deputy Foreign Minister and Ambassador of Ukraine to Brazil Andrii Melnyk stated in April 2023 that while Ukrainian diplomacy had "almost forgotten" about Central and South America, the Russians had set up a network of embassies, consulates and cultural missions there. 

Ukraine has only six embassies in 33 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean: Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Mexico, Peru, and Chile. At the same time, the Ukrainian Foreign Ministry estimates that there are approximately 100 Russian institutions in the region, ranging from embassies to trade, consular and cultural missions, not including media outlets in Spanish and Portuguese.

In November, the US State Department said that Russia was funding a disinformation campaign in Latin America aimed at weakening support for Ukraine. According to the US, Russia plans to use the media in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Cuba, Mexico, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, and other countries to foster anti-American sentiment.

Currently, most Latin American countries are neutral on Russia's full-scale war against Ukraine. In particular, the continent's largest countries — Colombia, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina — refused to provide weapons to the Ukrainian military at the request of the United States in January 2023. And the President of Brazil offered Ukraine to "give up Crimea" to end the war.

However, Anastasiia Kosenko, an expert at the Foreign Policy Council's Latin America and the Caribbean Studies Programme "Ukrainian Prism", said in the podcast "svit ne sweet" (the world is not sweet) that despite years of Russia's systematic influence in the region, Ukraine has no shortage of allies: Argentina has the second largest Ukrainian diaspora; Zelenskyy spoke in the Chilean parliament; Guatemala became the first country in the region to join the Core Group for the establishment of a special tribunal for the crime of aggression against Ukraine.

Zelenskyy's visit is a diplomatic breakthrough

Ivan Fechko, expert of the Latin American and Caribbean Studies Programme at the Foreign Policy Council "Ukrainian Prism", believes that Volodymyr Zelenskyy's visit to Argentina is a major event in Ukraine's relations with Latin America, which can be called a diplomatic breakthrough. 

The Ukrainian delegation was received at a high level, and the newly elected President of Argentina himself paid the most attention to Zelenskyy, despite the presence of the presidents of other countries in the region and the King of Spain at the inauguration. 

The President of Ukraine was also the only foreign delegate to receive a gift - a menorah, one of the oldest symbols of Judaism and Jewish religious attributes.

It is important that Javier Milei supports Volodymyr Zelenskyy's idea to hold a Ukraine-Latin America summit, as this will allow him to engage the leaders of the region to explain Ukraine's position in person.