The second round of the Peruvian presidential elections confirmed a turn to the political right of this South American country. That has important implications for Russian foreign policy in the region.

Supporters of Peru's President-elect Pedro Pablo Kuczynski chant slogans against his rival Keiko Fujimori outside the National Office of Electoral Processes, in Lima, Peru, June 7, 2016. Photo: AP

In the tightest election in Peru’s history, the well-known 77-year-old economist and head of the center-right party Peruvians for Change Pedro Pablo Kuczynski defeated Keiko Fujimori, the leader of the right-wing populist party Popular Force (PF) and daughter of former president Alberto Fujimori, by 50.1 percent to 49.9 percent.

These elections confirm a turn to the right, not just for Peru, but also for all of South America. Peru has now joined Argentina, Brazil, Colombia and Paraguay as countries where right-wing and center-right forces dominate the state administrations.

Russian diplomacy will have to adjust to this new reality, and look for new ways to preserve its successful foreign policy towards Latin America.

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A pragmatic approach for South America

While the domestic policies of the current left-nationalist government in Peru could hardly be called genuinely left-wing, in the foreign policy field, the course set by President Ollanta Humala was clearly pragmatic and non-ideological.

Given the fact that foreign trade accounts for nearly half of Peru’s gross domestic product, it is easy to understand why the economic interests of the country prevail over ideological goals. Thus, Peru is interested in having tariffs, trade barriers and restrictions abolished in other countries, which makes its position close to that of the U.S. As a result, based on the country’s pragmatic economic interests, Peru is guided by the same concerns as Washington when it comes to pushing for trade liberalization.

Under President Humala, the main foreign trade partner of Lima became China, which accounts for 22-23 percent of Peru’s foreign trade turnover. Moreover, in real international politics, Humala’s administration acted in ways that evoked criticism from most left-wing forces in Latin America.

Thus in 2012, after Peru, together with Mexico, Colombia and Chile, created the Pacific Alliance, the ex-president of Brazil, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, accused the leaders of those countries of trying to bring Latin America back into the orbit of the infamous “Washington Consensus.” Then in February of this year, Peru joined the list of founding countries of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which is also focused on the rules of free market economics.

In a recent article for Russia Direct, Victor Katona correctly pointed out the importance of Russia having good relations with the Latin American world through groupings such as the BRICS and MERCOSUR, a South American trading bloc that includes Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay, Uruguay and Venezuela as full members. However, if we proceed from the need to find pragmatic approaches for Moscow when it comes to the Western hemisphere, then it seems that in the next few years, Russia should intensify its relations with the Pacific Alliance.

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In this regard, we should not forget about the leading role being played in this association by the United States when it comes to foreign and international trade policies. It’s clear that the member countries of this association are oriented in the same direction as the U.S.

However, the declared goals of the Pacific Alliance (reduction of tariff barriers and promotion of an integrated Latin American market), do not contradict the goals and objectives of Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union that Moscow is promoting. It is worth noting that the President of Peru is now the head of this Pacific Alliance, which creates opportunities for dialogue and cooperation with this organization.

Russia’s search for new partners

After Humala won the elections in 2011, the Kremlin expected to see a serious shift in Peru’s foreign policy, but nothing of the sort happened. In 2014, during a UN vote on Crimea, the Peruvian representative supported the point of view of Western countries.

At the same time, the past five years have seen the economic partnership between Russia and Peru improving. Several specific agreements were signed, cooperation is developing between Rosatom and the Peruvian Institute of Nuclear Energy, cooperation in health care and higher education spheres has intensified, and work is being carried out on the deployment in Peru of a fourth-generation mobile communications network by Yota.

In addition, over the past 15 years, Peru has purchased various weapons from Russia (combat helicopters, tanks, machine guns) amounting to about $700 million. It is rather obvious that this military-technical and economic cooperation between Russia and Peru will continue.

Presidential candidate Pedro Pablo Kuczynski acknowledges the crowd at the end of a news conference in Lima, Peru, June 9, 2016. Photo: AP

By itself, the Peruvian example shows that bilateral cooperation can also occur without a common ideological component being present. It is possible to suggest that the new center-right presidents of Brazil, Argentina and Peru, possibly having cooler feelings towards Russia than their predecessors, will not tear up the already signed contracts or, in general, curtail economic cooperation.

At the same time, the question arises: What will be the future of relations with the “left-wing” countries that are oriented on even more active political and commercial partnerships? Perhaps here the old diplomatic rule should apply. In short, it is desirable to look for new partners, without losing former allies. This is the approach that eventually should prevail in Russian diplomacy.

In any case, when determining the future direction of relations with South American countries, Russian diplomacy should firmly bear in mind that in this region, it is possible that politicians that are favorably disposed to Washington’s views could come to power at any time. The Peruvian example only confirms this thesis.

The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.