US general: Russia has more spies deployed in Mexico than in any other country

Glen VanHerck told a Senate hearing this week that the Kremlin is seeking to access the US from the neighboring country. Meanwhile, the American ambassador has objected to a Mexican-Russian ‘friendship committee’

Glen VanHerck
General Glen VanHerck during the Senate hearing on Thursday.Jose Luis Magana (AP)

The foreign military intelligence agency of the Russian Federation, known by its abbreviation GRU, currently has more intelligence officials deployed in Mexico than in any other country in the world, with the final goal of influencing the decisions taken by the United States. That’s according to the commander of the United States Northern Command, Glen VanHerck, who issued this warning on Thursday during a hearing of the United States Senate Committee on Armed Services, during which he added that the Kremlin is seeking to access the US from the neighboring country.

The information emerged practically at the same time as complaints that the US ambassador to Mexico, Ken Salazar, made after proceedings were held in the Chamber of Deputies on Wednesday to inaugurate a Mexican-Russian “friendship committee” with the presence of diplomats from the Kremlin. The move came just before the the invasion of Ukraine entered its second month.

“We have to be in solidarity with Ukraine and against Russia,” said Salazar in Mexico’s lower house of Congress on Thursday. “The Russian ambassador was here yesterday making a lot of noise about how Mexico and Russia are so close. This, sorry, can never happen. It can never happen,” he added.

In Washington, VanHerck has put the focus on Moscow’s operations in Mexico, where Russia has one of its biggest embassies in Latin America. “I would like to point out that most of the GRU members in the world are in Mexico at the moment. That’s Russian intelligence personnel. And they keep a very close eye on their chances of influencing the opportunities and access that the United States has,” he said during the hearing.

The four-star general was answering questions from senators on the Committee on Armed Services. He also stated that there are actors such as China and Russia that are “very aggressive and active” in the whole area of the Northern Command’s area of responsibility, including the Bahamas and Mexico.

This was not the first time that a member of the military had made such statements. In September, VanHerck pointed to Russia as posing the greatest danger for the United States. “Russia is the primary military threat to the homeland today. It is not China – it is Russia,” VanHerck told Air Force Magazine.

GRU has been linked to some of the most controversial actions blamed on Russia by the West in recent years, and counts on its own special forces squads abroad. The organization is one of the different groups that are authorized to spy for the Russian government, along with the other agencies that succeeded the Soviet Union’s security agency, the KGB.

In the opinion of the head of the US Northern Command, one of the consequences of the instability in Mexico that is caused by drug-trafficking cartels is that Russian or Chinese spies can easily threaten US national security. Transnational criminal organizations operate almost without opposition and open the path to corruption and violence that creates a breach that allows China and Russia to meddle in those countries, he said.

Meanwhile, in Mexico, Ambassador Salazar questioned the decision of some lawmakers to install a pro-Russian group while the Ukrainian conflict drags on. “I remember very well that during the Second World War there was no distance between Mexico and the United States, both were united against what Hitler was doing,” he said during the inauguration of another friendship group in Mexico’s lower house between Mexico and the United States.

These friendship groups would no doubt have passed unnoticed were it not for the war in Ukraine. But in the context of the conflict, the creation of the friendship committee between Russia and Mexico has been mired in controversy, and has been harshly criticized by the opposition as being “reckless” and “aberrant.”

The inauguration of the group meant a way into Mexico’s Congress, during an official ceremony, of the Russian version of the conflict in Ukraine. This narrative has been branded as propaganda by the West and has been rejected by 140 countries at the General Assembly of the United Nations – including Mexico, which “energetically” condemned the Russian assault at the end of February.

Meanwhile, the White House is pushing for unity in Mexico over the conflict. For Washington, its southern neighbor is a key ally in Latin America, a region where Russia has found the international backing that it lacks in other parts of the world and where it counts on allies such as the government of Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, Miguel Díaz-Canel in Cuba and Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua.

Among suspicions of spying and mutual accusations of propaganda, two formal ceremonies in Mexico sparked controversy and indignation thousands of miles away from the armed conflict, and in a region that is accustomed to observing power games from far away. And in a country where, until now, there were no doubts about its position in the face of the Russian offensive.

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