Why Have Non-Western Nations Given Only Limited Support To Ukraine Against Russian War? – OpEd


In March 2022, 141 member-states of the United Nations General Assembly – or 73% of them – supported a resolution calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops from Ukraine and reaffirming Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and independence.

Those votes did not imply a choice between dictatorship and democracy. Many of the 141 countries are autocracies or weak democracies. In Asia and Africa, some of them emerged as states after fighting national liberation or freedom movements against West European imperial powers. And some states face or have faced threats to their territorial sovereignty from hostile countries or secessionist movements. For them, the crucial point is that Russia’s illegal invasion violates the UN Charter and the territorial integrity of Ukraine.

In fact, Latin America, Africa and Asia are split over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Moreover, Russia’s attempts to influence African countries – many former colonies of West European powers – by telling them that the former Soviet Union, its legal predecessor, supported their liberation movements,  should be kept in perspective. Twenty-eight African countries supported the resolution against Russia, 17 voted against it, and eight were not present for the vote. Each group included former British, Belgian or French colonies.

Some Latin American countries, including Brazil and Argentina, supported the anti-Russia resolutions. Cuba, Nicaragua, and Venezuela did not because they favoured Russia.

At another level, Brazil, which has received weapons from Russia as well as hundreds of the German Leopard tanks that the West has given Ukraine, is against sanctions on Russia.

Generally, many countries are most concerned about economic problems created by Russia’s invasion and its blockades of Ukrainian ports – which have affected deliveries of grain, fertiliser and edible oils. Some think Western sanctions on Russia have exacerbated the difficulties.

Such divisions have more to do with national interests or political proclivities and less to do with regions or ‘cultures’. Even within the European Union, Hungary, once a Soviet vassal state and now a member of the Union and NATO, opposed economic sanctions on Russia partly because it imports Russian energy; partly because the ruling Fidesz party of President Viktor Orbán admires Putin and Russia’s political system. On February 23, Hungary blocked an EU statement pledging “unwavering” support for Ukraine.

Stance of India and China

Western hopes that authoritarian China, a global political and economic influence, and India, a (weakening) democracy, both major buyers of Russian arms and energy, would use their influence over Moscow to condemn Russia’s aggression are unrealistic. China and India were among the 35 countries (18% of UN member-states) which abstained from voting against Russia’s illegal annexation of Eastern Ukraine. China’s neutrality is easier to explain because together with Russia, it seeks to end America’s Asian and global primacy. And Beijing blames the US for the war. India’s abstention appears surprising, since its territorial integrity has long been threatened by China and Pakistan.

At the same time, both China and India claim to be upholding international law, the UN Charter, and the territorial integrity and sovereignty of states. Ironically, India also routinely now says it stands for a ‘rules based international order’ – a US construct which Russia says  “rejects the key principle underlying the UN Charter, which is the sovereign equality of states”.

Both India and China profess to be “on the side of peace” when it is obvious that Putin is executing longstanding plans to destroy Ukraine as a sovereign state which Russia itself recognised after the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991.

At the G-7 meeting in Hiroshima in May 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi counselled Zelensky that “There is no problem in the modern age, whose solution we cannot find in the teachings of Buddha.” But external affairs minister Jaishankar’s recent statement to Handelsblatt, the German financial newspaper, that India will not initiate mediation in Ukraine makes clear that Buddha’s wisdom will have no effect on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

At another level, New Delhi has never explained why Buddha’s teachings haven’t resolved India’s old border conflicts with neighbouring Pakistan and China. All the more so as the self-styled Vishwaguru holds that its “abnormal” ties with China have been caused by the violation of border management agreements by Beijing.

At the China-led Shanghai Cooperation meeting in Uzbekistan in September 2022,  Modi cryptically told Putin in a widely quoted statement that now was “not a time for war”, while hailing the India-Russia tie as “unbreakable”.  On February 20, Jaishankar told Handelsblatt that “Russia has never hurt our interests”.  Well, does the news that 100 unsuspecting Indians have been forced to fight for Russia in Ukraine, and that Moscow sold oil to India at 30% above the Western price cap, and insisted on payment in yuan, dirham and US dollars, rather than Indian rupees, really point to ‘Russia never hurting India’?

Even more importantly, what about the view of India’s military that Russian deliveries of weapons and spare parts have stalled? That alone says that Russia is not India’s reliable friend. New Delhi is now looking to Western democracies, including France and the US, for arms and for collaboration in manufacturing weapons.

Additionally, India – like China – has gained far more from economic and educational ties with Western democracies than with Russia. America buys 18% of India’s exports, Russia a mere 0.66%.  In  2022, there were 30, 000 Indians in Russia; 200,000 Indian students in the US.

Finding its way through a maze of international interests, Ukraine could certainly tell some non-Western states that it is a victim of Russian imperialism and that, in 1991, when the Soviet Union imploded, the newly independent states were poorer than their longtime Russian overlord. So were colonies of European empires when they achieved national freedom. In 1991,  Ukraine itself was one of the poorest Soviet republics. Whether Ukraine’s stance might then ring some bells with the states that emerged from anti-European national movements remains to be seen.

In the face of different interpretations of “freedom”, Ukraine will find it hard to court so many countries against Russia’s imperialism. No surprise, then, that Kyiv feels its focus must be on the economic and military imperatives and to rely on the West, especially the US, to preserve its territorial integrity.

But let’s remember that, after two years of a war aimed at extinguishing Ukraine’s independence,  Russia has lost more than 300,000 soldiers and 6,000 tanks, and about half the territory it annexed two years ago.  In fact, it has even turned to developing countries like Iran and North Korea for arms.

Even as Ukraine fights on, those are facts that countries that supported UN resolutions against Russia should keep in mind, so that the success of expansionist powers in destroying independent states never becomes inevitable.

This article was published at The Wire

Anita Inder Singh

Anita Inder Singh, a Swedish citizen, is a Founding Professor of the Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution in New Delhi. Her books include Democracy, Ethnic Diversity and Security in Post-Communist Europe (Praeger, USA, 2001) ; her Oxford doctoral thesis, The Origins of the Partition of India, 1936-1947 (Oxford University Press [OUP], several editions since 1987, published in a special omnibus comprising the four classic works on the Partition by OUP (2002, paperback: 2004) The Limits of British Influence: South Asia and the Anglo-American Relationship 1947-56 (Macmillan, London, and St Martin's Press, New York, 1993), and The United States, South Asia and the Global Anti-Terrorist Coalition (2006). Her articles have been published in The World Today, (many on nationalism, security and democracy were published in this magazine) International Affairs, (both Chatham House, London) the Times Literary Supplement, the Guardian, the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Asian Wall Street Journal, the Nikkei Asian Review and The Diplomat.

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