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Reviews |  On Ukraine, much of the world is sidelined.  Here’s why.


Other countries have put their national interests above US calls to isolate and sanction Russia. Israel and Turkey have not publicly condemned Russia and are trying to preserve important tangible benefits as well as the ability to mediate between Kyiv and Moscow. India, for its part, continues to value its economic ties with Russia and since the invasion has taken advantage of reduced prices to buy more than double the amount of Russian oil than it did in 2021. .

These countries believe that international efforts should focus on promoting a negotiated settlement in Ukraine, not using the war as an opportunity to isolate Russia, let alone weaken it. The divergence of views ensures that US efforts to relegate Russia to pariah status will fail – not because many countries support the Russian invasion of Ukraine, but because they want to protect the special advantages they derive of their relationship with Moscow. They also believe that publicly condemning Russia will do nothing to end the war in Ukraine.

In the West, the reluctance of these countries to choose sides, castigate Russia, support Ukraine and impose sanctions has been widely seen as moral bankruptcy and strategic naïveté. To make its displeasure known, the United States has sometimes resorted to not-so-subtle threats. During a visit to India, Daleep Singh, President Joe Biden’s deputy national security adviser for the international economy, warned that countries that undermine the US sanctions regime against Moscow could end up paying the economic price. At a March 18 press conference, US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield was equally outspoken. “You can’t,” she said, “stand on the sidelines and watch the aggression that we see unfold in Ukraine and say you’re going to be neutral about it. Some senior US lawmakers have even suggested that Washington consider imposing sanctions on India.

The threats and lectures, however, fell on deaf ears in many countries belonging to the Global South – a catch-all term for a collection of Asian, African and South American countries – some of which at times reacted angrily. arm twist. A particularly dramatic example is that of Imran Khan, until recently Prime Minister of Pakistan, who bristled at the EU for demanding that Pakistan vote in favor of the UN General Assembly resolution castigating the Russia. “Are we your slaves to do whatever you say? Khan asked.

Although India and Pakistan have fought several wars against each other, their positions on the war in Ukraine are similar, reflecting a reluctance to risk upsetting Russia. India has had close relations with Moscow since the mid-1950s. Although it is now much less dependent on Russian weaponry and has extensive economic and security ties with the United States, Russia remains its main military supplier, accounting for nearly half of India’s defense imports. Russia has also started cultivating Pakistan. Contrary to its India-centric policy during the Cold War, Moscow has provided Pakistan with a limited amount of weapons and, since 2016, has also held joint exercises with the Pakistani military. It’s no wonder Khan refused to be pressured into taking sides in the war on Ukraine – and his successor, Shehbaz Sharif, hasn’t changed course.

Then there’s Brazil, whose $1.4 trillion economy — the largest in Latin America — is deeply dependent on agricultural sales, which Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has made it a priority to promote. Soybeans, Brazil’s number one agricultural export, bring in nearly $29 billion. Growing this crop requires fertilizers, and Brazil imports 85% of what it needs, and Russia accounts for 23% of those imports. Would Russia end its fertilizer sales if Brazil started backing Western sanctions against Moscow? Bolsonaro does not want to know. Brazil voted for a March 2 UN General Assembly resolution condemning Russia, but its ambassador’s explanation of vote sharply criticized ‘blind application of sanctions’ and denunciation of resort to war by Russia.

Reflexively pro-Russian governments – Belarus and Syria, for example – have their own reasons for supporting Russia’s war in Ukraine, including their near-total economic and military dependence on Moscow. But others have avoided publicly condemning Russia for a different reason. They believe that exposure will not change Russia’s behavior but will increase the polarization produced by the war, thus reducing the chances of a political settlement. Although such a settlement is nowhere in sight, these countries do not wish to jeopardize the prospects for an end-of-war negotiation at a later date. So even as Mexico voted for the March 2 resolution, it opposes sanctions on the grounds that such punitive measures will make resuming diplomacy even more difficult.

This logic also explains the refusal of Indonesia, current chairman of the G-20 economic group, to disinvite Putin from the November conclave summit in Bali despite Washington’s insistence, even if President Joko Widodo understands that Putin’s participation could trigger a Western boycott. Like Mexico, Indonesia voted in favor of the March 2 resolution but believes that a strategy of isolating Russia will prove counterproductive. Next year India will chair the G-20 and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, whose country abstained on the resolution, is highly unlikely to shut the door on Putin for the same reasons.

Likewise, despite the United States’ desire to use harsh language condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine at this month’s United States-ASEAN summit in Washington, D.C., the joint closing statement contained nothing more than an innocuous call to end the fighting, provide humanitarian aid to Ukraine, and uphold the principles of “sovereignty, political independence and territorial integrity”. Russia was not mentioned, let alone castigated. The United States also did no better at the ensuing 21-nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) conclave in Bangkok. Just as Russia’s Economic Development Minister was about to address the gathering, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai, joined by delegates from Australia, Canada, Japan and New Zealand, went out ; the other participants remained in place.

Pivotal countries of the Global South have refused to toe Washington’s line for another reason: apprehension, even resentment, about the United States’ use of dollar dominance to enforce sanctions against countries in more and more frequently. Some of those countries — including India and Pakistan after their 1998 nuclear tests and Turkey after its purchase of Russia’s S-400 missile defense system — have themselves been subject to US sanctions.

It doesn’t help that Washington defends its sanctions on the grounds that they are necessary to punish countries that threaten the rules-based global order. For much of the Global South, this line of argument is hypocritical given Washington’s history of abandoning those same principles when appropriate. Consider NATO’s unilateral intervention in Kosovo in 1999, which was undertaken without a UN Security Council resolution, as was the Iraq War of 2003 – a preventive war of regime change launched on the basis of the false claim that Saddam Hussein was developing weapons of mass destruction. Add to that the 2011 intervention in Libya, which went beyond the terms of the 1973 UN Security Council resolution, escalated into a war for regime change against Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi. , left behind political anarchy and contributed to a rise in terrorism. across North Africa.

There is an important lesson to be learned here: for many countries outside of North America and Europe, choosing sides in a confrontation between Russia and the West is a losing strategy that costs far outweigh the benefits. Moreover, the United States cannot reasonably be expected to sacrifice important interests to uphold global norms that Washington itself sets aside when it sees fit. Painting countries that have not followed the West’s lead towards Russia as Putin sympathizers misses this larger context.

To be clear, Russia’s assault on Ukraine is illegal: the Kremlin attacked a country that presented no clear and present danger to Russian national security. Worse still, Russia indiscriminately struck civilian targets and its soldiers committed war crimes. Consequently, Ukraine has the right to defend its independence and must give itself the means to do so.

Yet we should have no illusions about how far the rest of the world will go to support Ukraine. Washington has a bad habit of assuming that with the right amount of pressure or inducement, other states will eventually side with the United States as it tries to solve a problem, manage a crisis or punish an aggressor.

But international politics is a much more complicated matter. How the world looks depends to a large extent on the position of a specific country, its interests, and how much of those interests it can reasonably sacrifice. This is true even in cases, such as Russia’s attack on Ukraine, where harm is easily discernible. The United States would be better served if it had to live in a world of reality – frustrating as that may be – rather than a world of fantasy, in which countries reliably follow the lead of American policymakers. Otherwise, the United States will face disappointment, frustration, and potentially failure.

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