The West has never been so united, determined and energetic as after the Russian invasion of Ukraine. This attitude surprised not only President Vladimir Putin, but also the West. The democratic camp, it seems, has made peace with itself – but is that also true in the global context?
The first glance speaks for itself. At the UN General Assembly in early March, 141 states called on Russia to end the war immediately. Five countries surrounding Russia and its vassals voted against. 35 countries abstained, including heavyweights such as China and India. These 35 states represent almost half of the global population, so almost 50 percent of the world’s population lives in states that do not clearly distance themselves from war.
This fact raises key questions: What deeper economic and political reasons are preventing more states from condemning the war in Ukraine? Does the West need to hold a mirror up to itself and take a more global perspective?
Smaller countries in particular feel pressured by Russia and therefore did not have the courage to condemn the invasion. Above all, they fear that Moscow could withdraw military aid from them. Other countries abstained because they do not want to risk a deterioration in their trade relations with China. These are probably the decisive aspects why almost half of the African states did not oppose the war.
For other countries that belong to the West or are at least fundamentally more friendly, the strategic advantages of cooperation with Russia were in the foreground when they abstained. Think, for example, of Israel and its security interests in Syria. Or India, which relies on arms purchases from Russia to protect itself against China and Pakistan.
For India, there is also the fact that, unlike the rich industrialized countries, it would be far less able to cope with possible restrictions on oil imports and any price increases; instead, the subcontinent was threatened with economic and political crises. From New Delhi’s point of view, cheap Russian oil is a particularly attractive lubricant.
In addition, many of the 35 states also cast doubt on the moral credibility of the West. African countries are criticizing their inadequate supply of vaccines against Covid-19. Despite promises to the contrary, procurement of vaccines largely falls back on Africa itself. Other states, such as Pakistan, have criticized the democratic camp’s handling of Afghanistan. They speak of the West’s “double standards” and point to the current famine in the country. The images of the hasty, chaotic withdrawal of Western troops in 2021 are fresh in our minds here.
In extreme cases, the situation in Ukraine even provides secret satisfaction, because the West is experiencing for itself what it is doing elsewhere. In summary, the situation is this: North and South America are as opposed to the Russian invasion as are Europe and Australia, while half of Africa and the most populous countries in Asia, except Japan, are abstaining.
One could object that a vote in the UN General Assembly is not a measure of a state’s fundamental position. It could also be recalled that even during the Second World War and the Cold War that soon followed, some states avoided siding with one side or the other of the conflicting powers. However, this does not absolve us from the obligation to work for a better global understanding, and to do so with concrete steps.
Eye level is not achieved through donations of clothing. With a view to Africa in particular, the question of fair vaccine distribution is more topical and relevant than ever. Original promises made by the West must be kept and effective local vaccination campaigns must be supported. In this context, the question of genuine economic partnerships also arises. The often invoked “equal eye level” between the continents can hardly be achieved through donations of clothing or vaccines, which are not recognized in Europe. Rather, it is about nothing less than a really fair and sustainable economic exchange, especially of agricultural goods.
International trade agreements must finally be pushed forward. The four years of Donald Trump’s presidency have shown how fragile even seemingly stable relationships can become. This teaches us that it is necessary to strengthen and perpetuate contractual ties in times of good relationships. This prevents bad times. This insight applies not only to the relationship between Europe and the USA, but everywhere.
In Europe, the integration of the markets must also be deepened. Against the background of the Ukraine war, this applies in particular to the energy markets. Further sanctions against Russia regularly reach their limits in the EU where individual states can expect massive losses – Hungary, for example, in the event of an oil boycott, Germany and Italy in the event of a gas embargo. An integrated European system and close cooperation could reduce these dependencies and automatically increase the EU’s ability to shape foreign policy. European bargaining power instead of individual agreements would also ensure lower prices for energy supply.
Ultimately, Europe must adopt a more global perspective. The intensive exchange with emerging powers around the world must become a permanent concern, it must no longer be limited to crisis diplomacy. Europe not only has economic prosperity to offer, but also a way of life that, unlike in Russia, is not based on state coercion.
From a global perspective, Europe should evaluate wars and conflicts regardless of geographic proximity. The current regime of sanctions against Russia must live up to the claim of serving as a blueprint for comparable conflicts worldwide. In this way, Europe could regain credibility, which is of great value for the resolution of future conflicts as well as for economic exchanges with other parts of the world.
The West’s reaction to the Russian invasion of Ukraine gives hope that cooperation between the states involved can be expanded and deepened. At the same time, however, the 35 abstentions in the UN General Assembly signal that the West must leave its “bubble” in order to receive lasting support in all parts of the world. A new credible narrative of the democratic camp and its practical implementation are needed – an ambitious goal that the West should better consider today than tomorrow.