A diplomatic row between the EU and Latin American countries over how – or even if – to mention the war in Ukraine threatens to turn what was meant to be a celebration of a renewed partnership into a diplomatic failure.
The first day of the summit between the EU and the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC) was dedicated to the affirmation of strengthened intercontinental ties. But the high-sounding speeches quickly fell through as EU negotiators tried to get Latin American countries to condemn Russia for its war in Ukraine.
Nicaragua and Cuba have vehemently opposed the proposed language on Ukraine, according to three EU officials, one of whom said these two countries had received calls from Moscow advising them to do so.
The row in Brussels came just as Russia refused on Monday to extend a UN-brokered deal that had allowed Ukraine to export its surplus grain via the Black Sea. Both were stark reminders of how the hybrid geopolitics of Russia seeks to drive a wedge between the wealthy pro-Ukrainian West and the rest of the world.
Despite several rounds of negotiations on a joint statement that leaders could approve, there was still no deal on Monday evening, with some officials fearing the two-day summit might fail to produce any joint statement.
“I confirm that we are still discussing the text of the communiqué,” European Council President Charles Michel said on Monday afternoon, in an attempt to limit the damage. “And it means something. It means that we want an ambitious text on both sides ».
An EU diplomat said at the end of Monday’s meeting that « negotiations will reach the finish line ». Bargaining over the text « doesn’t endanger the summit – for now ».
Credibility at stake
Failure to agree on a joint statement would deal a major blow to the EU’s credibility at a time when it is trying to unite voices at the UN and beyond in support of Ukraine against a belligerent Russia. Brussels is also trying to become Latin America’s best friend again in the face of an assertive China that is grabbing market share on the other side of the Atlantic.
“If Russia lays down its arms, there will be peace. If Ukraine lays down its arms, there will be no more Ukraine, » said Latvian Prime Minister Krišjānis Kariņs, whose country borders Russia.
“Maybe from a more distant area, it’s not so obvious to understand,” Kariņš added in a clear jab at the CELAC countries.
The latest versions of the documents, seen by POLITICO on July 7 and July 13, showed that the language on Ukraine had been watered down, going from “strong” condemnation of Moscow’s “violation” of Ukrainian sovereignty to simply “ expression of concern” about the war in Ukraine.
When asked about the robbery, Honduran Foreign Minister Enrique Reina said: « I believe it is part of this process to find, in this dialogue, a way out that respects the visions of both the EU and CELAC and each of its members ».
Ukraine wasn’t the only contentious issue, with the draft communiqué resembling a shopping list, after each capital pushed to mention its national priorities, such as colonial reparations or the Malvinas Islands, on which Argentina and the UK – which is no longer an EU member – fought a short war 40 years ago.
Barbara Moens contributed to the report.