Differing views on Russia’s war in Ukraine


The war in Ukraine passed the 10-month mark this week, and the Russian military adopted a new strategy: deliberately targeting Ukrainian energy sources to make the winter as cold, dreary and depressing as possible for Ukrainians. Millions of people have lost power, with schools, hospitals, homes and businesses all affected by the relentless attack on Ukraine’s power grid, nearly half of which was knocked out after a particularly missile fuselage fierce in mid-November.

One would expect these attacks to have even more serious diplomatic and economic repercussions for Moscow. In some respects, these expectations have been met; the European Parliament went so far as to label Russia a state sponsor of terrorism, and the G20 issued a joint statement after intense negotiations, blaming the war for having caused “tremendous human suffering” in Ukraine as well as only economic consequences worldwide.

Yet the war demonstrated how self-serving geopolitics can be. Where you sit often determines where you stand. Russia’s actions in Ukraine have been nothing short of brutal, but the fact remains that different countries have different interests to protect and different goals to pursue. It is true that more countries outside the West are chafing at the economic costs associated with the fighting, but it is also true that much of the world does not want to sever ties with Moscow, limit its options by choosing its camp or outsource its Russian policy to Washington.

Much of this reality is a clash of perceptions. As Washington and Brussels say, the war is an existential struggle between democracies and an aggressive authoritarian Russia. The West has enacted the toughest sanctions regime ever against a major economy, freezing about half of the Russian Central Bank’s more than $600 billion in foreign exchange reserves. U.S. and European Union (EU) export restrictions on critical technologies are complicating Russia’s ability to manufacture everything from cars to electrical appliances, and turning Russia’s economy into a primitive shell. The EU is set to ban all Russian crude imports by December 5, forcing Moscow to divert up to 1 million barrels a day to other markets. All of this comes as the United States and Europe continue to provide substantial military aid to Kyiv, with Washington alone having sent nearly $19 billion worth of military equipment since February.

Countries outside the West, however, oppose involvement in the conflict on principle, do not participate in the sanctions regime, and remain highly skeptical of the West’s overall narrative of the war. A significant portion of Africa views Western preaching about universal values ​​and respect for democracy as condescending, even hypocritical, given Washington’s own Cold War history. To the extent that African officials are preoccupied with war, the concern is driven more by food security (more than 40% of the continent’s wheat supply comes from Ukraine and Russia) than by the desire to hold Russian President Vladimir Putin accountable.

In Latin America, the goal is to end the conflict diplomatically rather than to arm against each other in the hope of a military victory. While it’s true that Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador’s peace proposal was slammed by critics as naive and untimely, the plan itself was a microcosm of how the region generally views the Ukraine issue. Brazil, Latin America’s most populous state as well as its largest economy, will be just as indifferent to curtailing ties with Moscow under incoming President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva as it was under Jair Bolsonaro; with more than 85% of its fertilizers coming from Russia, Brazil cannot afford to alienate the Russians, at least until long-term agricultural agreements can be reached with other suppliers.

The same sentiments persist in Southeast Asia. Since February, Indonesia, Vietnam, Cambodia and Malaysia (among others) have taken care to preserve their neutrality. Indonesia’s hosting of the G20 leaders’ summit is instructive; despite pressure from Washington, Indonesian President Joko Widodo refused to ban Putin from attending (the Russian strongman ended up staying away) and urged Western officials to water down their condemnations of the Kremlin for improve the chances of a joint release being achieved. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), a body traditionally reluctant to get involved in other regions’ issues, represents contrasting views on how to proceed against Russia. To the extent that ASEAN has had something to say about the war, the rhetoric has focused on stopping the fighting, opening humanitarian corridors and promoting a political settlement.

An elderly man walks past a building that was destroyed by a Russian missile attack earlier this month, October 28, 2022, in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine.
Carl Court/Getty Images

India is a special case. The world’s fourth-largest economy historically goes its own way in foreign affairs and resists the division of the world into competing blocs. This is not just a point of sovereignty for Indian officials, but a means of maximizing New Delhi’s bilateral relations, maintaining positive ties with as many countries as possible and securing the most beneficial agreements for the benefit of the Indian population. India’s decision to exponentially increase its purchases of discounted Russian oil (Russia now accounts for 21% of India’s oil supply compared to 1% before the war), as well as its insistence on maintaining trade relations with Moscow, were not a surprise.

The fact remains that, on the war in Ukraine, much of the world is not on the same wavelength as the United States and Europe. Different countries have different interests, and they are eager to protect them despite the twists. Western officials would be wise to bear in mind this basic but fundamental point of international relations.

Daniel R. DePetris is a member of Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist for the Chicago Grandstand and Newsweek.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.


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