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Prof. ST Hsieh

Director, US-China Energy Industry Forum

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February 23, 2023

Unfortunately, the Ukraine war reaches the one-year anniversary today still with no end in sight. Sadly, every waring party is gearing up for another year of fighting, or even longer.

The following news report is refreshing as Ukraine war news dominated the west highlighted by President Biden’s high-profile visit to Kiev a few days ago. But Ukraine war is not a global war, at best it is a binational war in Europe. In fact, the war zone is limited to only part of the Ukraine.

But the US led sanctions against Russia pans the globe and every nation is strongly asked to comply: if you are not with us then you are against us. But the reality is “two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries that have refrained from condemning Russia.” A major reason that people in the underdeveloped world do not support the war is west colonialism. Then Russia and China have dedicated more resources to support the poor nations around the world than the west.

It should be alarming for the west to notice that the global divide is deepening. It is clear that as the Ukraine war drags on, the west will lose more global support day by day.

A global divide on the Ukraine war is deepening

Published February 22, 2023 at 5:14 p.m. EST

JOHANNESBURG — Clement Manyathela, who hosts a popular and influential talk show on South Africa’s Radio 702, remembers the outrage he felt when Russian troops first surged into Ukraine. He had believed Russia’s insistence that it wasn’t planning to attack and felt cheated when war broke out.

“We were lied to,” he said.

But as the fighting continued, he, and many of those who call in to his show, began to ask questions: Why had President Vladimir Putin deemed it necessary to invade? Was NATO fueling the fire by sending so many weapons to Ukraine? How could the United States expect others around the world to support its policies when it had also invaded countries?

“When America went into Iraq, when America went into Libya, they had their own justifications that we didn’t believe, and now they’re trying to turn the world against Russia. This is unacceptable, too,” Manyathela said. “I still don’t see any justification for invading a country, but we cannot be dictated to about the Russian moves on Ukraine. I honestly feel the U.S. was trying to bully us.”

In the year since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, a reinvigorated Western alliance has rallied against Russia, forging what President Biden has trumpeted as a “global coalition.” Yet a closer look beyond the West suggests the world is far from united on the issues raised by the Ukraine war.

Year of war

The conflict has exposed a deep global divide, and the limits of U.S. influence over a rapidly shifting world order. Evidence abounds that the effort to isolate Putin has failed, and not just among Russian allies that could be expected to back Moscow, such as China and Iran.

India announced last week that its trade with Russia has grown by 400 percent since the invasion. In just the past six weeks, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov has been welcomed in nine countries in Africa and the Middle East — including South Africa, whose foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, hailed their meeting as “wonderful” and called South Africa and Russia “friends.”

On Friday, a year after the invasion began, the South African navy will be engaged in military exercises with Russia and China in the Indian Ocean, sending a powerful signal of solidarity at a moment the United States had hoped would provide an opportunity for reinvigorated worldwide condemnations of Russia.

How Russia’s invasion of Ukraine rippled through the world

Conversations with people in South Africa, Kenya and India suggest a deeply ambivalent view of the conflict, informed less by the question of whether Russia was wrong to invade than by current and historical grievances against the West — over colonialism, perceptions of arrogance, and the West’s failure to devote as many resources to solving conflicts and human rights abuses in other parts of the world, such as the Palestinian territories, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

U.S. officials point out that 141 of 193 countries voted at the United Nations to condemn Russia after the invasion; the same number approved a nearly identical resolution on the eve of the anniversary Thursday. But only 33 countries have imposed sanctions on Russia, and a similar number are sending lethal aid to Ukraine. An Economist Intelligence Unit survey last year estimated that two-thirds of the world’s population lives in countries that have refrained from condemning Russia.

This is not a battle between freedom and dictatorship, as Biden often suggests, said William Gumede, who founded and heads the Johannesburg-based Democracy Works Foundation, which promotes democracy in Africa. He pointed to the refusal of South Africa, India and Brazil to join Biden’s global coalition.

That reluctance, he said, is the outgrowth of more than a decade of building resentment against the United States and its allies, which have increasingly lost interest in addressing the problems of the Global South, he said. The coronavirus pandemic, when Western countries locked down and locked out other countries, and President Donald Trump’s explicit disdain for Africa, further fueled the resentment.

As the West pulled back, both Russia and China stepped into the vacuum, aggressively courting developing nations and capitalizing on the disillusionment with the United States and Europe by presenting an alternative to perceived Western hegemony. The Middle East and Africa are key battlegrounds in this struggle for hearts and minds, as are Asia and, to a lesser extent, Latin America, whose fortunes are more closely bound by geography to the United States.

The Middle East is one region where Russia has succeeded in winning friends and influence, said Faysal, a retired Egyptian consultant on organized crime who asked that his full name not be used because of the sensitivity of discussing political issues in Egypt.

“Of course I support Putin,” he said in an interview in Cairo. “A long time ago, we lost faith in the West. All the Arabs on this side of the world support Putin, and we are happy to hear he is gaining lands in Ukraine.”

“There’s been a failure of the West in the past 15 years to see the anger building up around the world, and Russia has absolutely exploited this,” Gumede said. “Russia has been able to portray Ukraine as a war with NATO. It’s the West versus the rest.”

Russia’s gamble

Despite Western efforts to attribute global inflation and a food crisis to the Russian invasion, most countries around the world blame the West for the imposition of sanctions, said Kanwal Sibal, a former Indian foreign secretary.

They do not subscribe to the narrative that countering Russia is a moral imperative if the principles of democracy and territorial integrity and the rules-based world order are to be upheld, Sibal said.

“That’s not an argument that serious people buy,” he said, citing the NATO bombing of Serbia, U.S. support for dictatorships during the Cold War, and the Iraq War as examples of what he sees as the United States violating those same principles.

The rest of the world genuinely sees this as a European war. They do not see a global conflict or the way it is presented by the West,” he said.

The United States needs India to counterbalance China and, after initial attempts to pressure New Delhi to fall into line with its policies, now appears to have accepted India’s position, Sibal said.

South Africa’s decision to join military exercises with Russia and China has been met with less understanding. U.S. and Western diplomats have expressed alarm at both the timing and the nature of the drills, saying they suggest that South Africa is veering beyond its professed neutrality toward siding with Russia.

The exercises are giving Russia an important public relations boost as the West’s attention is focused on the anniversary of the war, said Kobus Marais, spokesman for South Africa’s Democratic Alliance opposition party.

But South Africa has its own reasons for remaining loyal to Russia despite the risks, South Africans say. The ruling African National Congress party was backed by the Soviet Union throughout the decades it spent in exile during the apartheid era, and many of its most senior figures received training in the Soviet Union, including the powerful defense minister, Thandi Modise.

Shakes Matlhong, 33, said that his understanding of the conflict was hazy but that he has long regarded the United States as an “imperialist” power. “And now Russia is fighting back,” he said.

“Africa’s attitude to the war is that Russia is defending itself against NATO,” he said. “Russia never participated in any colonialism. It might be that Russia is wrong, but people’s attitude is determined by history.”

Karishma Mehrotra in New Delhi contributed to this report

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