- Frank Gardner
- BBC military columnist
“Ukraine and its allies, including London, have been threatening Russia for the last 12 years. Bringing NATO to our borders, canceling our culture – they have been humiliating us for many, many years.”
These are the words of Yevgeny Popov, a member of the Russian State Duma and an influential TV presenter, who gave an interview to the BBC Ukrainecast podcast.
“Of course, NATO’s plans for Ukraine are a direct threat to Russian citizens,” he said.
For a resident of Western countries, the views expressed by Popov are surprising. But they also open our eyes to how far the Kremlin’s narrative differs from that of the West.
To the ears of Europeans and the rest of the West, such claims are not only incomprehensible, but also a blatant disregard for well-documented evidence.
And yet, these things are believed not only by Kremlin supporters and many Russians in general, but also by residents of some other parts of the world.
After Russia attacked Ukraine on February 24, the UN General Assembly held an emergency vote to immediately condemn Russian aggression. The resolution was supported by 141 of the 193 UN member states.
Among the states that chose to refrain from condemning Russia were such major powers as China, India and South Africa. Therefore, Western leaders should not be under the illusion that absolutely the whole world is ready to completely lay the blame for the catastrophic war in Ukraine on Russia.
So why are so many countries hesitant to take a tough stance on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine?
There are many reasons: from concern for their economy and their own military interests to accusations of the West of hypocrisy and the colonial past of Europe. Each country has its own specific reasons for refraining from publicly blaming Russia and not alienating President Putin.
Cooperation without borders
Let’s start with China, the world’s most populous country with over 1.4 billion people. Most of them get their news about Ukraine from the state-controlled media – just like most people in Russia.
During the Winter Olympics in Beijing, shortly before the start of the invasion of Ukraine, a high-ranking guest, Vladimir Putin, arrived in China. In an official statement from the Chinese side, it was then said that there were no limits to the possibilities of cooperation between the two states.
Did Putin then warn his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping of an impending full-scale attack on Ukraine? Absolutely not, says China. However, it is rather difficult to imagine that even a hint was not uttered – to such an important neighbor.
China and Russia may one day prove to be strategic rivals, but today they are partners bound by contempt, if not hostility, toward NATO, the West, and democratic values.
Thus, China and Russia consider NATO as their common enemy, and the world view of the governments of these two countries is transmitted to their citizens. As a result, most people in China and Russia simply do not share the disgust and horror that people in the West experience in relation to the Russian attack on Ukraine and the evidence of war crimes of the Russian military.
India and Pakistan have their own reasons for not wanting trouble with Russia. India gets most of its weapons from Moscow, and after a recent border conflict with China over a disputed region in the Himalayas, India is counting on Russia to one day become its champion.
Pakistan recently ousted Prime Minister Imran Khan, who has been a fierce critic of the West and especially the US. Pakistan also receives weapons from Russia and needs its support to establish trade routes to its northern regions.
Imran Khan came to visit Moscow on February 23, when Russia’s relations with the West were already strained over Ukraine. The second day of his trip fell on February 24, when Russian troops began their invasion of Ukraine and were already shelling Ukrainian cities.
Both India and Pakistan abstained from voting on a UN resolution condemning Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.
“Hypocrisy and double standards”
In some countries, especially those with a Muslim majority, there are also accusations of hypocrisy and double standards against the US and the West.
In 2003, the United States and Great Britain, without asking for permission from the UN and without taking into account the opinion of most countries of the world, launched an invasion of Iraq on dubious grounds. Years of devastating war followed.
Now Washington and London are also being criticized for supplying weapons to Saudi Arabia, which is prolonging the civil war in Yemen. The Saudis are striking in support of the official government of Yemen, which is at war with the Shia rebels. The war in Yemen has been going on since 2014 and has led to an extremely difficult humanitarian situation.
As for African countries, many of them have their own, often historical, reasons not to condemn Russia, as the West does.
In Soviet times, Moscow bombarded the continent with weapons from the Sahara to the Cape of Good Hope to resist US and Western influence. And in some parts of Africa, the hostility left by the legacy of Western European colonization in the 19th and 20th centuries is still felt
When France sent soldiers to Mali in 2013 to prevent al-Qaeda takeover of the country, the French were not very popular there. Now that the bulk of the French military has left the country, Kremlin-backed mercenaries from the Wagner group have taken their place.
What is the position of the countries of the Middle East? It is not surprising that Syria supported the Russian aggression, as did North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea. Syrian President Bashar al-Assad owes much of his survival to Russia after he was nearly overthrown by Islamic State militants in 2015.
But even such longtime partners of the West as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates – although they supported the UN resolution – do not particularly criticize Moscow.
The de facto ruler of the UAE, Crown Prince Muhammad bin Zayed, maintains good relations with Putin: the previous UAE ambassador to Moscow even went hunting with the Russian president.
In addition, we should not forget that between the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman and US President Joe Biden, relations are very strained – to the point that they refuse to talk directly on the phone.
Earlier in 2018, when world leaders gathered in Buenos Aires for a G20 summit – just weeks after the West accused a Saudi prince of the brutal contract killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi – most of them defiantly ignored Ibn Salman.
Putin, on the other hand, warmly greeted the prince with a high-five gesture – slapping his open palm. It is unlikely that the leader of Saudi Arabia will forget this.
All this does not mean that the aforementioned countries actively support the invasion – except for Belarus. On March 2, at the UN, only five states voted for him, including Russia.
However, such arguments suggest that the West cannot take for granted that the rest of the world has the same attitude towards Putin, sanctions and arms supplies to Ukraine.
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