When the UN General Assembly voted overwhelmingly to condemn Vladimir Putin’s barbaric invasion of Ukraine, only Eritrea, Belarus, North Korea and Syria dissented – hardly an endearing group. But 35 countries, including India and China, abstained.
Kenya’s UN ambassador made a powerful speech against the invasion: “We must complete our recovery from the embers of dead empires in a way that does not plunge us back into new forms of domination and oppression,” he said.
South Africa initially called for the withdrawal of Russian troops, but then blamed NATO expansion for the war, ending up abstaining with 16 other African countries, its President Cyril Ramaphosa, explaining it hoped to play a peacemaking role.
Russia’s growing role in Africa, as well as its past support for southern African liberation movements, was clearly a factor here.
The Ukraine War has magnified a shifting geopolitical dynamic, including Russia’s expanding influence in the Middle East after its decisive role in the Syrian war, with Saudi Arabia and UAE rulers refusing to take Joe Biden’s phone call. Donald Trump massively damaged the US’s global standing and China of course is practising quasi economic colonialism across Africa. And the Iraq War provoked resentment at double standards.
Although Russia’s deployment of cluster munitions against Ukraine citizens has rightly horrified, Biden hasn’t so far reversed Trump’s endorsement of their use. Kenya’s denunciation of Russia’s naked violence in Ukraine was notably accompanied by a condemnation of “the trend in the last few decades of powerful states, including members of this security council, breaching international law with little regard”.
Although no democrat or humanitarian can defend Putin’s brutal aggression in Ukraine, the West has questions to answer, too. Why on Earth did NATO ever entertain Ukraine’s ambitions to join – a demand even Ukraine’s admirably brave president is willing to abandon?
In medieval times Kyiv was the capital of a kingdom that spread to become the Russian Empire, and it was only after the 9th century that the capital shifted to Moscow. Ukraine and Russia have therefore been tied to one another for centuries. Even such famed dissidents as Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russia.
When the Russian Austria-Hungary empires collapsed towards the end of World War 1, Ukraine declared itself an independent state for the first time, lasting until 1922 when it was incorporated into the Soviet Union. After a very painful World War 2 which again tore the country apart, and a great deal of suffering during the Cold War, 90% of Ukrainians voted in 1991 to separate from the defunct Soviet Union.
In 1994, the US, Russia and the UK signed the Budapest Memorandum which guaranteed Ukraine’s territorial integrity in return for its neutrality.
A negotiated agreement could reassert that neutrality, guaranteed by Moscow, Washington and Brussels, with no further NATO enlargement or encirclement around Russia’s borders, in return for no more illegal or aggressive moves by Russia in Ukraine, Moldova or any other of its neighbours.
Surely small prices to concede for both sides to end the slaughter and devastation? DM
First published in IC Intelligence Insight.