Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Mexico-Russia Relations: Fútbol and Much More

Mexico-Russia Relations: Fútbol and Much More
Wilder Alejandro Sanchez
20 June 2018

Mexico is one of the 32 nations that will participate in the 2018 FIFA World Cup that the Russian Federation will host from 14 June to 15 July. To prepare for the expected influx of Mexican tourists traveling, the Mexican government is increasing its diplomatic presence in Russia (like mobile consulates). While this sudden flow of Mexican citizens will be short lived, Mexico City-Moscow relations are gaining momentum.

Trade And Investment Grows

An important development in bilateral commercial relations occurred earlier this year, when a consortium between Russian oil company Lukoil and the Italian company ENI won a bid to explore for oil in the Gulf of Mexico. This is actually the second contract that Lukoil has gained in Mexico as it won a different bid last year. These type of commercial transactions are standard, but since Mexico is a close ally of the U.S., the fact that a Russian oil company will now operate (or at least search for oil) in Mexico is a significant development.

In fact, Mexican-Russian trade has slowly grown in the past years – according to media reports, it reached USD$1.4 billion in 2016 and USD$1.6 billion in 2017 (though Mexico’s two main trading partners remain the U.S. and China). Additionally, a note by the Mexican daily El Universal explains that ProMexico – part of the Secretariat of Economy, aimed at promoting international trade and investment – will reportedly attempt to promote “seafood, meats, and dairy products” in the Russian market during the World Cup.

Even more, in spite of the ongoing Moscow-Washington tensions, Moscow-Mexico City diplomatic relations remain quite amicable. For example, in mid-May, the President of the Mexican Senate, Ernesto Cordero Arroyo, traveled to Moscow and met with Chairman of the Federation Council Valentina Matviyenko. Mr. Cordero declared that bilateral relations are passing through a very good phase (“un muy buen momento”) and they will continue, regardless of who is elected president of Mexico in the 1 July general elections. Even more, a press release published by the Mexican Senate as part of the visit highlights how Mr. Cordero mentioned that both Mexico and Russia support a “multipolar world.”

The Mexico-Russia-USA Triangle

The main issue to keep in mind is the geopolitical context of this apparent rapprochement. Diplomatic relations between Washington and Mexico City have reached a low point due to President Donald Trump’s inflammatory comments regarding immigration, the controversial border wall and the renegotiation of NAFTA.

Without a doubt, there are still plenty of positive initiatives, like for example high-level military meetings, and the apparent sale of eight MH-60R Multi-Mission Helicopters helicopters as well as a number of missiles (type RGM-84L Harpoon Block II, among others ) to the Mexican Navy. However such developments are overshadowed by executive-level statements. It is in this new reality that Mexico City appears to be looking to strengthen trade relations with other partners.

Even more, the Mexican and international media have published a number of articles over the past year that discuss this complex geopolitical situation. For example, a 27 January 2018 commentary in was bluntly titled “Russia quadruples its investment in Mexico while the US thinks about building walls.” Similarly, a 20 November 2017 article in El Cronista is titled “Mexico approaches Russia to make business as NAFTA stalls.”

Final Thoughts

While Russia cannot realistically replace the profits Mexico obtains from the U.S. market and NAFTA, the Russian market and potential investments are lucrative alternatives. We will have to wait until Mexico’s July elections, which will curiously occur in the middle of the World Cup, to have a better idea of the next Mexican president’s priorities and foreign policy objectives. It will be interesting to see how much Mexico can achieve in Russia, both regarding fútbol and everything else.

W. Alejandro Sanchez is a researcher who focuses on geopolitical, military and cyber security issues in the Western Hemisphere.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and do not necessarily reflect those of any institutions with which the author is associated.

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