The universality of Ukraine
Houses are seen in Pryvillia, eastern Ukraine, on April 23, 2022, amid the Russian-Ukrainian war. — Agence France-Presse/Yasuyoshi Chiba
THE Russian war in Ukraine made headlines in the United States and Europe. It was presented as a defining event of a generation and as a pivot of geopolitics which will divide the history of the world into a before and an after, just like the events of September 11, 2001.
Much of the world, however, is not fascinated by developments in Central Europe or even necessarily sympathetic to the plight of Ukraine. The five countries that opposed the UN resolution condemning the invasion are predictable: Russia, Belarus, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria. But among the 35 countries that abstained are heavyweights like China, India, Iran and South Africa. Virtually no country in the South has signed the sanctions against Russia.
Some of the hesitant countries rely on Russian military exports. Others fear jeopardizing trade relations with Moscow or Beijing.
At MSNBC, Trita Parsi also notes that non-Western countries are tired of Western hypocrisy and skeptical of Western motives for sanctioning Russia.
In conversations with diplomats and analysts from Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Latin America, it became clear to me that these countries have great sympathy for the plight of the Ukrainian people and see Russia as the aggressor. But Western demands to make costly sacrifices by cutting economic ties with Russia to maintain a “rules-based order” have engendered an allergic reaction. This order was not rule-based; instead, it allowed the United States to violate international law with impunity. The West’s messages on Ukraine have taken their deafness to a whole new level, and they are unlikely to win support from countries that have often experienced the worst aspects of the international order.
In addition to their anger at Western hypocrisy, many countries in the South are understandably angered by the disproportionate attention given to the war crimes that Russia is committing in Ukraine when so little attention has been given to the bloody conflicts that take place elsewhere in the world, in Ethiopia. , Myanmar, throughout the Middle East.
There are also fears that Western military support for Ukraine could bring the world closer to a global conflict, perhaps even to the point of a nuclear swap that will have disastrous consequences for countries far from the immediate battlefield.
The reasons for hesitation – to condemn Russia, to support sanctions, to rally to the defense of Ukraine – make sense.
They are also largely beside the point.
RUSSIA violated the sovereignty of another country. He violated a principle of international law that goes back centuries. He justified his invasion by claiming that his action was to prevent or anticipate an attack on Russia. He thus reproduced the same reasoning used by the United States to invade Iraq in 2003.
But Russia’s conduct in Ukraine should not be measured against US actions in Afghanistan or Iraq. On the contrary, it must be judged according to international law. US support for the Kyiv government or its hypocrisy regarding past actions should play no role in how other countries view the situation in Ukraine. One might as well complain that France has no standing to criticize Russia because it invaded Prussia in 1870.
The same argument about position is often heard about human rights, namely that countries like the United States cannot make any claims – for example, about torture – because of their own record. doubtful. But the hypocrisy of a single country does not disqualify the multilateral system. The standard of comparison – like Russian war crimes in Ukraine – is not the United States’ record on this issue, but the body of international human rights law.
International law is, of course, an imperfect instrument, like anything created by imperfect governments acting together. But, like national laws enshrined in national constitutions, international law evolves. Instead of discrediting international laws by questioning the record of those who invoke the laws, we should be working to build greater compliance at all levels.
This is exactly what US Representative Ilhan Omar is doing. She called on the United States to join the International Criminal Court. If Washington wants to bring Vladimir Putin to court for war crimes, it must accept that the same laws apply to American soldiers and citizens.
Here is a good rule of thumb. Do not use the accusation of double standards to avoid applying any standard. Instead, work to eliminate the double standard.
Impact of the war on the countries of the South
MANY countries do not want to cross Russia because they are worried about the economic impact of the Kremlin sanction. Why should they make sacrifices in the name of upholding the principles of international law that the global north violates with impunity?
The sad truth is that the countries of the South are already suffering from the Russian invasion, whether or not they participate in the sanctions regime.
In March, food prices hit a record high. This is not surprising since Russia and Ukraine together account for 30% of wheat exports and 20% of corn exports. Ukraine actually had a great harvest last year, but it cannot easily get grain stores to market without access to shipping from Black Sea ports surrounded by Russian gunships.
It’s not just the cost of food imports. This is the cost of growing food.
Much of the world’s food production depends on fossil fuels for the production of fertilizers and the maintenance of mechanized machinery like tractors. Even if a country produces its own food and does not import wheat from Ukraine or Russia, its ability to feed its own population is hit hard by rising energy costs.
All of this should focus the anger on Russia, not only for the suffering imposed on Ukrainians, but also for the difficulties that everyone in the world is experiencing due to soaring prices. If sanctions can hasten the end of the conflict – by disrupting Russia’s war effort – it is in the economic interest of virtually all countries to support them.
Avoid World War III
FEW people outside the Kremlin want to see the war in Ukraine continue. And no one wants peace more than the Ukrainian people who continue to suffer from Russian attacks.
But there is a misconception that Ukrainians refuse to compromise, and that is why the war continues.
Russia attacked Ukraine for no good reason. Ukraine, despite its military disadvantages, fought back, resulting in a sort of stalemate. President Volodymyr Zelensky offered his support for various compromises, including neutrality.
But it is Vladimir Putin who refuses to end this war. Stuck in his attempts to seize kyiv and other major cities, he redirected his army east and south in order to capture enough territory to demonstrate that his invasion was not in vain.
Ukraine could, in theory, cede this territory to the Russian army. It would be a bitter pill to swallow, but the phrase “land for peace” has sometimes worked in other places and in other times.
But territorial concessions would not guarantee the end of the war. Putin said his goal was to “denazify” Ukraine and unify the territories in the Russkie Mir, or “Russian world”. Successfully integrating the Donbass into Russian territory, he could refocus his attention on his initial plan to seize kyiv.
Meanwhile, taking territory was the prelude to even worse scenarios. In a horrific echo of Stalin-era internal deportations that targeted Poles, Tatars and others, tens of thousands of Ukrainians have already been forcibly moved to Russia, with as many as 100,000 slated for areas as far away as Siberia and the Arctic. Circle. Putin’s allies even suggested sending all Ukrainians to concentration camps for re-education to ensure loyalty to their new Russian overlords.
Thus, Ukrainians are fighting for their lives. Europe and the United States provide them with weapons to defend themselves, but they have been careful to do so in a way that does not put NATO forces in direct conflict with the Russian military. The purpose of arms transfers is precisely to prevent the escalation and widening of the war to areas outside Ukraine.
I do not subscribe to the idea that Russia is determined to push north in the Baltic countries or west in Poland or Hungary. I don’t believe that stopping Russia in Ukraine is like stopping the Ottoman armies outside the gates of Vienna in 1683.
But neither do I believe that an arms embargo will end the current conflict. This will only end the lives of many, many Ukrainians – just as an arms embargo was essentially a death sentence for many Bosniaks in the mid-1990s. I mistakenly supported an arms embargo during the Yugoslav wars, thinking that sending weapons was like stoking a fire. The embargo did not help end this conflict; rather, it was the additional weapons that enabled Croatia in 1995 to defeat Serbian military units in Croatia and Bosnia.
During the Cold War, it was a tacit agreement between Washington and Moscow – after the Cuban Missile Crisis – that proxy wars in the Third World would not entail the risk of a nuclear confrontation. The war in Ukraine is different in that Russia is directly involved. But, until NATO provides boots on the ground or planes in the air, the two superpowers should agree, unofficially, if necessary, to observe a similar protocol. A return to nuclear arms control negotiations should be part of any deal to end the war in Ukraine.
We do not care?
IT would be absurd to expect southern countries to care about Ukraine in the same way as Europe. The very future of European security is in jeopardy, and Ukrainian refugees are flooding Poland and Germany, not South Africa and Brazil.
But the war in Ukraine nonetheless has global implications that should make everyone care about its trajectory. All countries should fear that Russia’s disregard for Ukrainian sovereignty will serve as a precedent for other powerful countries to look at the territory of their neighbors. All countries should be concerned about the sharp rises in commodity prices and the threat to food security. And all countries should be very concerned about how the war has revealed, once again, a deadly addiction to fossil fuels.
Yes, the global north is hypocritical. But this should be a call to arms, not a retreat into frightening, cynical, and ultimately dangerous neutrality.
CounterPunch.org, April 22. John Feffer is the director of Foreign Policy In Focus.