What the crisis in Ukraine tells us about us – POLITICO

Yusaf H. Akbar is Associate Professor of International Strategy and Maciej Kisilowski is Associate Professor of Law and Strategy, both at Central European University.

Vienna — Earlier this week, the United Nations General Assembly passed a resolution demanding Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. Apart from Russia and its closest allies, almost all of the 52 countries that did not support the resolution belong to the Global South.

Much has already been said about the commercial and military considerations surrounding lukewarm support for Ukraine from India and Africa to South America. But our very understanding of the war in Ukraine – “the biggest war in Europe since World War II” – and the urgent nature of the political response to it, also has deeply racialized underpinnings.

Take, for example, Charlie d’Agata from CBS News, who last week contrast “civilized” Ukrainian refugees with those from “places, with all due respect, like Iraq and Afghanistan”. Following an outcry, after similar statements made by other white correspondents also surfaced, d’Agata apologized. “I spoke in a way that I regret,” he wrote. Alas, it’s not really the path d’Agata has spoken.

The reaction of European countries seems to relay a similar understanding: in 2015, a million refugees from the war-torn Middle East were harassed in countries including Hungary, Denmark and Britain, with their numbers deemed “unsustainable “. Today, Europe has opened the door to a similar number of Ukrainian refugees in just one week. Denmark was even eager to announce that it would not apply its controversial “jewelry law” – which allows the government to seize migrants’ valuables in order to pay for their stay – to Ukrainian refugees.

Every war is an affront to humanity, no matter where it takes place. But it is absurd to claim, as historian Yuval Noah Harari has, that Russian aggression constitutes a tectonic shift from a supposedly peaceful world in which “being invaded and conquered by neighbors has become almost inconceivable.” .

To begin with, the scale of the Ukrainian tragedy unfortunately does not make it unique among recent conflicts. We are obviously still very early in what may become a surprisingly bloody war and occupation, and civilian casualties have probably already reached thousands – a shocking number. But equally shocking are the more than 377,000 Yemenis who, according to the United Nations Development Programme, have perished as a result of a war that bears notable similarities to that in Ukraine – a proxy war over balance regional powers.

The US war in Iraq also comes to mind. It resulted in between 400,000 and 700,000 “additional deaths”, according to studies. Of course, eliminating the brutal regime of Saddam Hussein is in no way morally comparable to attacking the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, which won a landslide victory in free and fair elections. But both tragedies were ill-calculated wars of choice, fought in violation of the UN Charter, and were undertaken by a nuclear power with the aim of installing a friendly government.

Arguments describing the Russian invasion as unprecedented due to the uniquely developed “pro-Western” nature that distinguishes Ukraine from some “third world countries” are also misguided. Certainly, since the ousting of their last authoritarian strongman in 2014, Ukrainians have made enormous progress in building a less corrupt and more democratic nation. But even before the war, Ukraine was a middle-income, developing economy. Its GDP per capita in 2020, adjusted for purchasing power, was lower than that of Botswana or South Africa.

Similarly, Ukrainian democracy was more fragile than that of many African or South American countries. Since the 2014 revolution, the country has seen only one peaceful transfer of power. And, disturbingly, its former chairman, Petro Poroshenko, who lost his re-election bid to Zelenskyy, faces criminal charges, even though he was allowed to remain free pending the investigation.

Finally, viewing this war as unique due to Ukraine’s geographic location also does not fully stand up to scrutiny. Even in Europe, we have recently witnessed major bloody wars that have killed thousands: in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s accession to the presidency was marred by a brutal invasion of Chechnya, involving an estimated 80,000 Russian soldiers and cost the lives of more than 50,000 people. And let us also remember the Serbian siege of Srebrenica which lasted three years and during which more than 9,000 Bosnians perished. Neither has led to talk of a fundamental reorientation of European security.

Overall, it’s hard not to see the impassioned tone of the current narrative and the boldness of the Western response as signs of the particular – albeit belated – empathy granted by Europeans and North Americans. to people who look like us (for the most part). and live near us.

But aggressive behavior weakens the rules of the world, regardless of the skin color, creed or geographic location of its victims. Russia tested the liberal international order with the Chechnya war, followed by the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the bloody intervention in Syria – all of which were launched in theaters “peripheral” to a white European perspective . Just as the war in Iraq and the parallel torture campaign instituted by the United States have also deteriorated the global settlement.

All of this together is what paved the way for the current tragedy.

Our solution is not to care less about Ukraine – rather, we should be more alert to security and war threats in other parts of the world. Indeed, one of the most powerful rebukes of Russian imperialism at last week’s UN Security Council session came from Dr Martin Kimani, Kenya’s permanent representative to the UN, who compared the plight of Ukrainians to the struggles of other postcolonial nations.

And only if we similarly broaden our consideration to include the peace and security of all nations can we count on broad support and cooperation in times of crisis.


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