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The future of Russia- Mexico Relations

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Mexico has impressive bilateral relations with the Russian Federation. During the last decade, Mexico has been exploring new opportunities with its partners in this part of Europe, in particular, with Russia. In this interview, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Mexico to the Russian Federation, H.E. Norma Pensado Moreno, talks about the key priorities, challenges and the economic changes that could possibly influence future bilateral directions of Mexico-Russia.

What are your Government’s priorities in and expectations from the Russian Federation?

Mexico´s Government issued new objectives of foreign policy; one of them is building stronger relations with our partners beyond North America. In this endeavor, Eastern Europe plays a key role. Moreover, due to its dynamism during the last decade, Mexico has a special interest in exploring new cooperation opportunities with its partners in this part of Europe, in particular with Russia.

For Mexico and the Russian Federation, there is great potential in their bilateral relationship. In 2017 and 2018, considerable progress was made in its political dialogue and cooperation in various areas, but a real deepening still remains, mainly in the economic field, in order to match the size of its economies, being both among the 15 biggest in the world.

Both countries are of decisive importance in their respective regions. Within the group of Latin American countries, Mexico occupies an important place for Russia’s foreign policy agenda. For Mexico, Russia is a country with high political, scientific, cultural, energy, tourist, investment and commercial potential.

The bilateral dialogue between the two countries has focused on the Mechanism of Political Consultations, official reciprocal visits, exchange and cooperation (educational, cultural, scientific and technical), energy, economy, trade and tourism. Mexico and Russia agree on positions in many International Forums and on principles such as the promotion of multilateralism. In this context, they have prioritized the issues of international security, the pacific use of cosmic space, the fight against drug trafficking and transnational crime.

The bilateral relationship is in a very good dynamic, due to the presidential meetings in BRICS and APEC summits, as well as the meetings of foreign ministers, in August and November of 2017. The celebration of the V Joint Commission of Cooperation in Culture, Education and Sports took place last February after many years, and the VI Economic Commission Mexico-Russia is expected to take place during 2019.

In short, our Government priorities and expectations are to continue and deepen the cooperation Mexico and the Russian Federation have both in our bilateral relationship in all areas and in the multilateral agenda, as well as to exploring new cooperation in areas such as energy and telecommunications, in which Russia has strengths.

Do you have the same business agenda in other ex-Soviet republics where you are accredited?

I am also accredited as Ambassador to Armenia and Belarus. Overall, Mexico’s business agenda is similar in the three countries. We want to expand trade, promote investments and connect our business community to their counterparts in these countries through the organization of business missions and participation in commercial promotional events. It is also a common goal in the three countries to promote Mexico as a tourist destination.

However, we have also set specific goals based on the prospects identified in each country. Russia is a big country and it represents a wide scope of opportunities. In the case of our Armenian counterparts, we have talked about the many opportunities in the IT and renewable energies sectors. As for Belarus, we are aware of its potential in the production of tractors and agriculture machines as well as in its new industrial technologies. We need to do some work to translate this flow of information into real opportunities that can be explored by our business communities.

Could you please discuss the level of Russia’s economic engagement in Mexico? Is your Government satisfied with Russia’s investment interest as compared to, most probably, other foreign players in Mexico?

Both Russia and Mexico are conscious that there is significant room to grow in our bilateral economic relations given the size of our economies and the possibilities of complementarity. We want to increase economic exchanges and investments.

That said, I want to highlight that Russia has made significant steps regarding its economic engagement in Mexico. It is Mexico’s most important investment partner among Eastern European countries, with a total investment of $20.9 million between 1999 and 2017. There are Russian investments in more than 80 Mexican companies, in fields such as transportation, hotels, and mining.

In June 2017, as a result of Mexico’s public tender process in its oil industry, Lukoil was awarded an exploration and extraction contract in the Gulf of Mexico. In March 2018, the company announced that, in consortium with the Italian company Eni, it had been awarded another contract. This consolidates its presence in Mexico since it started to cooperate with Pemex in 2014.

Last year Minister of Trade and Industry visited Mexico heading a business delegation in sectors such as aerospace, automotive, equipment and energy. And this October, the Deputy Minister of Trade and Industry also went to Mexico with a delegation of companies in the construction sector. I can thus say that we see a positive trend in Russia’s engagement in Mexico and we hope it will remain.

On the other hand, how does Mexico engage Russia? How do you view the possibility of effective trade exchanges between the two countries?

Mexican investment in Russia is also growing. In 2017 Gruma, one of the biggest producers of tortillas and other agro products opened a plant in the Moscow region with an investment of $50 million. Other companies with presence in the country are Kidzania –with an entertainment center in the Moscow region- and Nemak –with a manufacturing center for automotive components in Zavolzhie, near Ulyanovsk. Also, the Mexican air company Interjet has acquired several Russian-developed units, the Sukhoi SuperJet-100.

In addition, different Mexican governmental agencies have been encouraging Mexican producers from the agricultural sector to explore opportunities in the Russian market. As a result, representatives from more than twenty companies have visited Russia in the last four months to get acquainted with potential partners. We had a big delegation in Moscow last June, within the framework of the FIFA World Cup, and the second one in mid-September, which attended the World Food fair in Moscow.

Therefore, I can confidently say that there is keen interest from the Mexican side to strengthen its economic ties with Russia. Our goal is to translate all these steps into a substantial growth in trade exchanges.

How is Mexico’s tourism business developing in Russia? Are the number of Russian tourists increasing compared to the previous years? What strategies have you adopted to further popularize your country’s recreational destinations?

One of the main priorities of the Government of Mexico is tourism. Thanks to the efforts of our government in this area, in 2017 Mexico ranked sixth in the world in reception of foreign tourists, according to the World Tourism Organization, with almost 40 million visitors (39.3 million). Out of this amount, only 37,300 Russian visitors entered Mexico by airplane (an increase of 21.5% in comparison to 2016); it means less than 0.1% of all the tourists we received last year; even if it is increasing, it does not correspond to the importance of Russia in the world.

We strive for having again the numbers we had in 2013 when almost 108,000 Russians visited Mexico. The good news is that in the first 8 months of 2018, Mexico received more Russian visitors than in the whole 2017. If this trend continues we will receive more than 50,000 Russian tourists at the end of the year -something not seen since 2014-, it means almost 65% more than two years ago.

For the coming years, we are confident that the number of Russians who will visit Mexico will continue increasing thanks to the actions implemented by the Government of Mexico to popularize my country in Russia, among them:

1) the organization or participation in events aimed at the main Russian tour operators; 2) the participation in tourism exhibitions in Russia;

3) the publication of brochures or information in Russian language including the version in this language of the Website of our Tourism Office, which will be in force in the next weeks.

In this framework, a key role play the recent visit to Russia of more than 45,000 Mexican football fans to attend the World Cup who brought with them our “Fiesta”, something that Russians liked very much and has motivated them to visit Mexico in the near future.

What are views about economic changes in Russia and the Eurasian region? And how would the changes possibly influence future directions in economic cooperation in Mexico?

We closely follow the economic developments in Russia, Armenia, and Belarus, including the regional integration efforts within the Eurasian Economic Union. We are aware of the challenges the countries are facing, but also of the opportunities that are being open. We want to focus on the opportunities. As I mentioned before, the interest in deepening economic relations is mutual and is growing. We will carry on with the work that has been done in the last years.

In the case of Russia, we have still to agree on a date for the next meeting of the Economic Intergovernmental Commission, which will be key to strengthen our cooperation framework. Experts from the two countries are engaged in processes that we hope will lead to the reopening of the Russian market for Mexican beef and seafood products. The trends are very positive, and we can remain optimistic in that regard.

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and writer on African affairs in the EurAsian region and former Soviet republics. He wrote previously for African Press Agency, African Executive and Inter Press Service. Earlier, he had worked for The Moscow Times, a reputable English newspaper. Klomegah taught part-time at the Moscow Institute of Modern Journalism. He studied international journalism and mass communication, and later spent a year at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. He co-authored a book “AIDS/HIV and Men: Taking Risk or Taking Responsibility” published by the London-based Panos Institute. In 2004 and again in 2009, he won the Golden Word Prize for a series of analytical articles on Russia's economic cooperation with African countries.

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Americas

Nancy Pelosi and her dual approaches

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In her remarks, the United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, asserted that Trump’s border wall campaign has nothing to do with border security. She said it’s one of the US President’s plans for energizing his conservative base, and in this way, he aims to distract the country from the various scandals dogging his administration.

“I don’t even know if the president wants the wall. I think he just wants a debate on the wall. And he’s having some difficulty with it,” Pelosi said during a press briefing at the Capitol.

“He keeps increasing the amount of money; increasing the amount of beds; increasing the obstacles to finding a solution — because I don’t think he really wants a solution,” Pelosi said. “I think he loves the distraction that this is from his other problems,” She added.

Pelosi, along with Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, noted that they disagree with Trump over building a physical border wall, which according to them, would be expensive and ineffective.

“Democrats and the president both want stronger border security. However, we sharply disagree with the president about the most effective way to do it … Most presidents have used Oval Office addresses for noble purposes. This president just used the backdrop of the Oval Office to manufacture a crisis, stoke fear, and divert attention from the turmoil in his administration,” said Schumer in answer to Trump’s recent remarks.

On the other hand, Pelosi is among those who are seriously standing against Trump’s impeachment. This dual approach taken by Pelosi towards the White House, and the fact that the House speaker and other Democrat leaders have argued against the serious consideration of Trump’s impeachment, may lead to conflicts inside the Democratic Party in the future.

“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report. We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason. So we’ll just have to see how it comes,” Said Pelosi.

However, Pelosi’s remarks were not unprecedented! When Pelosi was the House Minority Leader in the years between 2016 and 2018, she opposed the idea of impeaching Trump. Nancy Pelosi has made it clear that she has a conservative approach towards Trump. This is while with a majority of seats in the House of Representatives, Democrats can initiate impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump. The fact that some Democrat leaders have opposed Nancy Pelosi’s Minority leadership in the US House of Representatives is rooted in the same reason. In any case, it seems that Pelosi prefers scenarios such as “making a political deal with Trump” to “Confrontation with the President”. Nancy Pelosi argues that Democrats’ direct confrontation with Trump, and in particular the impeachment of the President of the United States, will lead to the anger of some American citizens, and the Democrats will be accused of posing a blow to the American political and social equations. However, it seems that some Democrats do not agree with Nancy Pelosi’s opinion! Politicians such as Bernie Sanders believe that Trump is not politically negotiable. They believe that any compromise reached between Democrats and Trump will hold a bad result for them in the US 2020 presidential election.

At any rate, there’s plenty at stake: Amid this crisis, Trump has come with the idea of declaring a national emergency at the border, a move that could free up wall funding without the Congress approval.

“If this doesn’t work out, probably I will do it. I would almost say definitely,” said Trump.

The US government shutdown, which is resulted from the disagreements over border wall funding, is still ongoing. Trump is demanding $5.7 billion for new wall construction; Pelosi and the Democrats have offered $1.3 billion for border security measures, but have opposed construction of any new physical barriers. In spite of this, Trump has previously claimed that he’s ready to hold the shutdown for months and even years! If Pelosi surrenders in the face of Trump’s demands, she would be regarded as a defeated figure inside the US political circles.

First published in our partner MNA

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Trump is mocking Biden

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News sources in the United States announced that Joe Biden, the U.S. former Vice-President (from 2009 to 2017), and a prominent figure in the Democratic Party will soon announce his run for the president in 2020. Biden has previously said that he’s “the most qualified person in the country” for being president.

Biden mentioned these words in a controversial interview which has attracted the attention of many American analysts. However, Biden’s final decision for participating in the presidential campaigns wasn’t clear. Eventually, a number of Biden’s followers, including his brother Frank Biden, announced his final decision to run for the general elections. Polls conducted in the United States indicate that Biden is currently more popular than other potential candidates of the Democratic Party in the upcoming elections.

Meanwhile, Biden is probably to face rivals such as Bernie Sanders, Senator from Vermont, and Elizabeth Warren, and even Hillary Clinton. During the 2016 presidential competitions, Biden was also scheduled to attend the in-party election competitions, but he changed his mind due to his son’s death and Hillary Clinton’s insistence on attending the presidential campaign. Biden’s remarks, however, show that he’s greatly interested in defeating Trump in the 2020 election.

However, we shouldn’t forget that Biden can’t really count on the current polls conducted among Democrat supporters! We can all remember that during the 2008 presidential elections and inside the Democratic Party, Obama had far less chance of reaching the final round of the elections than those like Hillary Clinton. But his successful speeches in states like Iowa and South Carolina led to Clinton’s final defeat and Obama’s victory.

Hence, the success of Biden’s rival candidates in states like Iowa and New Hampshire (where American in-party elections begin with them) can completely change the equations, and that won’t be to Biden’s advantage.

Accordingly, Trump’s position on Biden’s participation in the presidential competitions are noteworthy. In a phone interview with Fox News’ Jeanine Pirro, Trump called Joe Biden “weak”. He also claimed that he’s not worried about a potential challenge from the former vice president in the 2020 presidential race; “You know, a lot of people say Biden’s doing OK, but he was always a 1-percenter. He was a 1 percent guy. He ran two or three times, he never got above 1%, and then, Obama came along and took him off the trash heap, and he became the vice president. He’s weak. So, we’ll see what happens with him.”

Trump’s words came on the same day that Biden had told some top Democrats that he was definitely running for president. “If I’m walking, I’m running,” said Biden.

Trump’s literature on Biden’s presence in the U.S. presidential race, reflects the U.S. President’s dissatisfaction and anger with the country’s former Vice President and his candidacy. Obviously, Trump preferred figures such as Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren to be his potential rivals in the next general elections.

However, Trump knows well that Biden can challenge his position at the White House by maneuvering again on issues such as public medical health insurance plan. On the other hand, Trump attempts to turn the game into an emotional rivalry through using ugly words against Biden, and this is very much like Trump’s populist personality and approach. However, Biden now has his main focus on Democrats’ inner-party race, and he doesn’t consider direct competition with Trump until he has won his victory in the competition.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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John Bolton’s Hawkish Flight

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The American edition of The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), citing former and currently serving politicians who wished not to be named, reported a few days ago that the US National Security Council (NSC), led by presidential adviser John Bolton, turned to the Pentagon last autumn with a request to devise several variants of striking Iran.

The reason for such a request was a mortar attack carried out in September 2018 by a pro-Iranian group against the diplomatic quarter of Baghdad, where the US embassy is located. Two days later, a similar attack was reported to have occurred in the southern Iraqi city of Basra, where the American consulate is based. No casualties or damage were reported. However, former deputy national security adviser Mira Ricardel described the shelling as an “act of hostilities” and made it clear that the United States should have responded with a “similar act.”

As a result, the US national security team held a series of meetings to discuss how the American side should respond. After that, Mr. Bolton urged the Pentagon to provide options for attacking Iran.

Officials neither confirmed nor denied the WSJ reports. NSC press secretary Garrett Marquis did not provide a clear answer to the question of whether the Council had been considering a military strike against Iran. “We are considering a  full range of measures to ensure security and guarantee our interests,” he said.

It should be noted here that the general staffs of the armed forces of any self-respecting country plan variants of both offensive and defensive operations against a potential adversary in advance. This work is carried out with a constant analysis of the changes taking place in the camp of the enemy, and in their own country. Therefore, undoubtedly, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (US General Staff) has in its secret vaults a variety of options for a war with Iran – the main potential opponent of the United States, as Washington has called it on more than one occasion.

Another matter is the case of John Bolton, when his personal request, even through the channels of the National Security Council, was carried out, according to observers, bypassing President Trump. Such a request took the Pentagon by surprise and put defense department officials who were used to everything “in a shock.” However, the request was accepted for consideration.

According to the WSJ, the Pentagon provided a complete layout proposing some general options for the operation, including a cross-border air strike on an Iranian military facility, which would be mostly symbolic. But the then Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis and other senior military officials strongly opposed retaliatory actions, arguing that the damage from the shelling of the US diplomatic missions was insignificant. And this basically logical viewpoint eventually prevailed.

But how will acting Secretary of Defense, Patrick Shanahan, act?

Any blow on Iran may lead to a full-blown armed conflict. Hypothetically,  considering the possibility of an airstrike on an Iranian military facility, it will undoubtedly trigger a return missile strike by the Iranian armed forces on any US military base in the Middle East. The Iranian missile forces have every potential to do so. And this means a war.

Is the United States ready for such a scenario?

It has to be pointed out that even massive missile and air strikes against Iran will not force Tehran to surrender. As in any war, the winner must march over the conquered territory. This calls for a ground operation.

Is the United States ready for this?

As the Field Service Regulations the US Army recommends, in order to achieve the goal of an offensive in the direction of the main blow it is necessary to create at least 6-fold superiority over the defensive forces and facilities. The question arises whether the US Armed Forces are capable of building such a superiority at least in one direction of the Iranian theater of war?

The number of regular armed forces of Iran ranges, according to various sources, between 540 and 900 thousand. The defense doctrine of the IRI puts a major emphasis on the Basij Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps resistance forces, a paramilitary, irregular militia and a reserve force of the regular armed forces whose main task is to participate in the defense of the country’s territory. The main combat units of “Basij” are “Ashura” battalions, which consist of men, and “Al-Zohra” female battalions, numbering an average of 400 each. Currently, 2500 such battalions are formed in Iran, consisting of 1 million volunteers, well trained both militarily and ideologically. In total, Iran’s “Basij” system embraces more than 12 million Iranians.

Is it possible for the United States and their allies to outnumber, if not 6-fold, then at least by 2-fold, the regular and irregular forces of Iran in the Iranian theater of military operations on the ground (without using nuclear weapons)? The answer is clear – no. And the Pentagon is fully aware of this.

For this reason, the likelihood that the United States will venture into an armed conflict with Iran is small.

John Bolton’s actions can be described as dangerous amid the current situation in the top echelons of power in the United States, which is controversial, to put it mildly. The opposition Democrats are exerting a serious and effective pressure on President Trump, while the State Department (and other as significant structures) is trying, as journalists say, to prevent the president’s “reckless” decisions from being put into effect.

In turn, US National Security Advisor John Bolton is making the most of the current state of affairs putting an end to internal strategic debates and discussions that could reveal the controversies within the Donald Trump administration. Mr. Bolton does not want to hear conflicting points of view, hates leaks, and wants to control the entire flow of information that is sent to the US President. This is a sure way towards excessive consolidation of power in the hands of one individual. Moreover, sometimes he acts without notifying President Trump, like in the recent case in which he appeals to the Pentagon.

John Bolton is one of the irreconcilable hardliners on the issue of Iran. Having assumed  his current position, Bolton stepped up the administration’s policy of isolating and exerting pressure on Iran, thereby demonstrating his hostile attitude toward Iranian leaders, which dates back to the days when he served as an official for the administration of George W. Bush. As a private individual, he called for military strikes on Iran, as well as a change of regime. In March 2015 – three and a half months before the signing of a nuclear deal, when it became clear to everyone that the Joint Comprehensive Plan Of Action (JCPOA) was ready and its authors were busy putting the final touches to it, – Mr. Bolton published an article in The New York Times under a provocative headline “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”. From the very beginning, John Bolton was against the JCPOA and fully backed President Trump in his efforts to pull out of the nuclear deal.

Bolton summed up his political credo in one phrase: “There is no such thing as the UN. There is the international community that can be headed by the world’s only superpower, which is the United States of America. ”  This he says despite the fact that in 2005-2006, he was the US representative to the UN.

Defense department officials, The New York Times writes, express growing concerns that John Bolton may indeed provoke a serious conflict with Tehran at a time when President Trump is losing influence in the Middle East.

Concern is being voiced not only by US military and politicians but throughout the world. After all, the main danger lies in the unpredictability of actions of President Trump and his hawkish employees, like John Bolton.

first published in our partner International Affairs

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