By RICARDO CASTILLO
Among the myriad of events the Mexican Senate hosts on a practically daily basis, last Wednesday, Feb. 6, one of them did not garner much attention, at first.
But as time went by, many eyebrows are beginning to be raised and people are starting to wonder what a bunch Russian politicos were doing in Mexico.
The meeting with the Russians was held at the old Senate building in downtown Mexico City. Energy Commission President Manuel Rodríguez – a Tabasco state paisano of President Andrés Manuel López Obrador (AMLO) – welcomed the small delegation of Russians along with Senator Alexander Babakov, vice president of the Foreign Affairs Committee for the Russian Federation of Nations. Joining Senator Babakov was previously-unknown energy consultant Samarkina Anastasia Denisovna, director of a Moscow-based company named Legint Bureau. The name of the event was the Forum on Energy and Investment: Alternatives and Propositions for the Generation of Energy, Gas and Petroleum, part of a set of conferences dealing with the national Mexico hydrocarbons production plan.
The nearly two-hour long discussion was taped and can be found in the Mexican Senate’s television station file.
This said, the essentially news-unworthy event might have gone unnoticed in Mexico. But in Russia, it was showcased on national television with blaring praise as a new front in Mexican-Russian relations and a potential opportunity that Mexico opened to the scouting investors to participate in the construction of a new oil refinery in Dos Bocas, Campeche, one of AMLO’s pet projects. In the media, the Russian government-sponsored Sputnik news agency touted the gathering as nearly a done deal.
At a time when AMLO’s plans for Pemex are being scorned by banks and credit rating agencies (Fitch, mainly), the fact is that, beyond wishful thinking of financial participation, Alexander Babakov and consultant Samarkina Denisovna would present a plan in Russia as to participation in Mexico’s oil industry. The two Russians made no commitments other than to go home and inform their superiors on the situation. And they signed a noncommittal letter of intent to invest.
One thing that is happening in Mexico, however, is that whatever the left-leaning AMLO administration does seems to get immediately smeared by what the president calls “the fifi conservative press.”
One week after the nearly invisible gathering, a columnist named León Krauze (son of famed historian Enrique Krauze) disparaged the content of the meeting in a column run in Spanish by Mexico City daily El Universal and in English in a US e-press agency Slate, headlined: “What’s Russia Up to in Mexico? A suspicious delegation suggests links between Putin and the new Mexican government.”
Krauze eyed the meeting as potentially suspect of several crimes. First, the gathering was cohosted by Senator Cecilia Pinedo of the truly leftist Labor Party (PT), who called for an “increase in bilateral incentives with Russia at the highest level with the firm compromise of developing energy projects and of cooperation that benefits both our peoples.”
Whatever commentary a mud-slinging columnist makes is fine, but misinforming is a different thing. Krauze devoted most of his charade to blast Senator Alexander Babakov as a “shadowy” crook associated with Viktor Boyarkin, allegedly the man U.S. President Donald Trump election associate Paul Manafort mingled with to get information to influence the 2016 election in the United States, an association that, as we all know, landed Manafort in the slammer.
And, of course, the Krauze article hints that whatever money Babakov represents might be dirty money since definitely Babakov is a man of Putin’s government.
The Russian envoys are guilty by association, according to Krauze, who besides writing for the abovementioned news organizations is a media hawker in Los Angeles for the Spanish local station of Univision. But making unfounded accusations is nothing short of smear journalism.
It must be said that, confronted with the negative response of the international rating companies, the AMLO administration is looking at all potential investors with interest, not mistrust. In the case of Russia, Mexico has held a long and friendly relationship with Moscow – with respective resident embassies in each other capitals – and in numerous cases, Mexico has acted as a mediator between Russia and the United States, even during the Cold War. President AMLO has reassumed Mexico’s stance of international neutrality, a stance that has irked many a rightwing payola-arm-cranking journalist.
The meeting – whether it was productive or not still remains to be seen – between Senators Rodríguez and Pinedo from Mexico and Senator Babakov for Russia and energy consultant Denisovna from Russia must be taken for what it was, an attempt to explore a potential business deal, and not a power grab by Moscow to impose Russian rule on Mexico.
Business with Russia? You bet!