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A view of the Ukraine War from an African perspective


Lord Peter Hain is a former anti-apartheid leader and British Cabinet Minister. His new memoir, A Pretoria Boy: South Africa’s ‘Public Enemy Number One’, has just been published by Jonathan Ball.

Russia’s growing role in Africa, as well as its past support for southern African liberation movements, was clearly a factor in African countries abstaining from the UN vote to condemn the invasion.

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.



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All Comments 5

  • By the time the dust settles there will be very little that Russia can do to influence global affairs. They are likely to be a spent force with not much left in the kitty to finance imperial ambitions in Africa or elsewhere. They will also be a nation with their reputation in tatters.

    There is a very compelling argument to be made for an even closer ties between NATO and Ukraine. Given the way that Russia is behaving it is simply not reasonable to expect that have any regard for global norms. Nor are they likely to change going forward. Membership of NATO is the only foil to Russian awfulness in the region. Level headed nations like Sweden and Finland understand this imperative.

    The fact that famed dissidents Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn and Joseph Brodsky insisted that Ukraine was an integral part of Russia is not relevant in the context of what is happening now. The Ukranians want to be independent of Russia and this is their right. It is this right that they are quite justifiably fighting for. We should all be pleased that they are doing so.

    • Good comment.
      I’m no expert what so ever of these matters but seems Hain (and Putin) look backward.
      Ukrainians have fled in their 4-5 million, to the West… not East to Russia…. (Discounting the 100s of thousands deported east by Russia against their will).
      Ukrainian are defending themselves tooth and nail.
      By all definitions that’s a nation. Resistant to imperial ambitions.
      Why on earth should they humble their ambitions to western norms to placate a slighted ex-KGB official?
      Hain has not thought this through.

  • Things have already moved on, with Finland virtually a Nato member, probably to be followed by Sweden. Can one blame them from wanting protection against a criminal state with a mad leader that cares little for the rules of sovereignty, and respects only power. Things fall apart when the order of the day is willfully ignored, the danger is recognised and leaders move to defend their countries. No one but Putin is to blame for this upset in the order of things.

  • Sympathy most certainly was not Russia’s driving force in supporting the liberation struggles in South Africa and beyond. They merely used the struggles as a means to get their foot in the door and spread their influence and then further their objective of world dominance by communisim. That has not changed. When you travel through Russia, Africa is very much viewed with disdain and as a liability and this weakness, provides oppurtunities.

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