Russia Seeks to Strengthen Political Ties with Latin America in Struggle for Influence in Global South (Part Two)

Publication: Eurasia Daily Monitor Volume: 21 Issue: 22

(Source: State Duma of the Russian Federation)

(Part One)

Executive Summary:

  • Russia has launched efforts to gain support for its actions in Ukraine and confrontations with the West among Latin American countries, showing interest in Guatemala despite the country’s previous anti-Russian stance.
  • Guatemala had strained relations with Russia, marked by condemnations against the war in Ukraine and deportations of Russian and Belarusian citizens.
  • Normalizing ties between Russia and Guatemala is a realistic prospect, despite some of the challenges, such as Western influence and growing ties with China in the region. 

In late 2023, Russia ventured to gain support for its actions in Ukraine and ongoing confrontation with the West among Latin American countries. It did this by launching the First International Parliamentary Conference, “Russia – Latin America,” in Moscow. Despite high hopes from the Kremlin, the event identified that Russia’s allies in the Latin America and Caribbean macroregion are still the same: Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua. Yet, Moscow has not seemed to reconcile with this, intensifying its search for potential partners and allies in the strategic macro-region.  Russia’s hopes were rather unexpectedly prompted after the presidential victory of Bernardo Arévalo, a politician with a leftist political orientation in Guatemala, at the end of 2023 (, August 21, 2023). Despite its relatively weak connection with Russia, Guatemala wields strategic geography, is the most densely populated country in Central America, and remains Russia’s regional top importer of fertilizers (critical for the local economy) (, October 1, 2023). At this juncture, Russian experts are wondering whether the advent of a leftist president could become a turning point in bilateral ties between Moscow and Guatemala City that, until recently, have been uneventful and marked by Guatemala’s anti-Russian position. Thus, Russian experts suggest intensifying dialogue with the newly elected president to increase Russia’s influence in Central America (, August 21, 2023).

Increasing attention from Russia’s policymaking and expert community to Guatemala is surprising. In effect, prior to Arévalo’s election, the country was one of the staunchest anti-Russian actors in the region, which was highlighted by the former Minister of Foreign Affairs of the Central American country, Mario Búcaro, who openly accused Russia of an armed aggression against Ukraine in 2023 (, July 28, 2023). In 2022, the local authorities revoked Guatemalan citizenship and deported Dmitry Kudriakov, a citizen of the Russian Federation, and Irina Litviniuk, a citizen of Belarus, from the country because of sanctions imposed by the United States against the individuals (, November 27, 2022). Furthermore, in 2022, during the first-ever visit of a Guatemalan president to Ukraine, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and the then president of Guatemala, Alejandro Giammattei Falla, both condemned Russia’s illegal war of aggression against Ukraine. Zelenskyy also stressed that the economic problems many Latin American countries experience, as well as limited access to staples and commodities from Ukraine, were the direct result of Russia’s aggression. In contrast, the leader of Guatemala expressed his full support to President Zelenskyy, the Ukrainian Armed Forces, and the people of Ukraine in their just war against foreign aggression (, July 25, 2022).

The advent of Arévalo has sparked hope that, in addition to the Kremlin’s key strategic partners in the macro-region (Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela), Russia could use Guatemala to increase its presence and ties to Central America. Russian experts lament that after 2007—when Guatemala hosted a session of the International Olympic Committee about the future capital of the Olympic Games in 2014, which was accompanied by the arrival of a massive Russian delegation personally headed by Russian President Vladimir Putin—relations between the two countries were put on hold even though that year marked the opening of the Russian Embassy in the country.

Russian experts also pointed out that the potential to further develop bilateral ties between the countries was present but not fully utilized. For example, despite the small size of the local economy, in terms of bilateral trade, some argue that Russian-Guatemalan relations could be seen as more valuable than ties with, for example, Argentina. This is stipulated by the size of trade and investments and by the fact that the quantity of Russia’s exports to Guatemala (metals, chemicals, mineral fertilizers, medicals) is five times greater than imports from the country. As of 2023, Russia’s investments in Guatemala exceeded investments in Argentina by more than $120 million. Yet, given economic sanctions against the government and limited access to staples and commodities from Western countries, Russia has been unable to capitalize on Guatemala’s competitive advantage in its agricultural sector. For instance, Russian analysts claim that Guatemala (one of the world’s largest producers of bananas) could be used as a source of diversification for Russia, whose market is de-facto monopolized by producers from Ecuador. Russia has been experiencing a deterioration of political ties with Ecuador over the decision to sell Soviet arms to the United States to be further transported to Ukraine (, February 3). Due to the monopolization, Russia’s banana market has depended on Ecuador.

Russian experts suggest using education and scientific ties in medicine, engineering, agriculture, and the production of medical supplies and drugs as a starting point for dialogue with Guatemala. This possibility could be pursued through the Russian State University for the Humanities (RSUH) branch located in Guatemala. Russian experts realize that for the newly elected president, one of the key priorities will be relations with China to attract foreign direct investments and remedy economic hardships. For obvious reasons, Russia cannot play the same role as China in the hierarchy of Guatemalan foreign policy. Suppose Russia picks its battles well and with necessary discretion, for instance, by intensifying ties in political cooperation and selected sectors of economy and education. In that case, Moscow’s prospects to normalize ties with Guatemala (and even promote its interests) are quite realistic. Thus, considering particularities of local identity and mentality, Russian experts strongly advocate for using the experience of 2007, when Putin personally visited the country, and putting bi-lateral political ties on a more personified basis (, January 14).

While it is difficult to expect any diplomatic-political breakthrough between Russia and Guatemala in the near future, some external developments—such as a political crisis between Quito and Moscow, expansion of BRICS, or normalization of ties between Guatemala and China—could create a fertile ground for specific changes in the bilateral relationship between the two countries.