There’s been a critical question since the Russians invaded Ukraine — and the answers have changed in the nearly seven months since then: On the geopolitical stage, who stands with Russian President Vladimir Putin?
In the wake of Russia’s latest nuclear threats, Global Grid’s analysis examines global support for Putin and his war.
The Turks are coming at night with Bayraktar
From the beginning, the US and its European allies have tried to convince the rest of the world of the moral and strategic imperatives of condemning Russia and supporting the Ukrainian resistance.
Among the main arguments put forward by the West collectively was how can the world stand idly by as one nation invades another without provocation?
How can he defend the silence after the atrocities – in Buka, Mariupol and other places in Ukraine?
How to avoid a dangerous precedent – one that could encourage further attacks on other nations’ sovereign territories?
The objections have taken various forms and come from many places besides Russia itself – among them: “We cannot always adopt a moral stance” or “We have our own interests to worry about”, such as Russian oil and basically foodstuffs, to mention two important examples.
And the West has remained silent or ineffective in response to acts of aggression elsewhere in the world.
Putin’s announcements changed the game
In April, Grid’s Nikhil Kumar published an article titled, “Is Putin an Outcast?”. What was clear then was that there was a significant gulf between the West and a number of major nations – China, India, Turkey and several countries in the so-called global South – that either openly supported Russia, or at least refused to condemn it. the invasion.
The war in Ukraine and the question, “Who’s on Putin’s side?”, loom large at the United Nations General Assembly meeting this week.
And the answers may change once again, given Putin’s game-changing announcements on Wednesday.
Putin and Russia’s defense minister gave two speeches from the Kremlin – not to the UN, but to the Russian people.
Highlights: A call for 300,000 Russian reservists to enlist, the announcement of referendums in four territories in southern and eastern Ukraine – a step toward formal Russian annexation of those territories – and – on a note intended for the wider world – a new and a not-so-veiled reminder that Russia has nuclear weapons at its disposal and that the West has, according to Putin, crossed “red lines”.
Who is siding with Putin now?
Neutrality without full support from China
China’s foreign ministry issued a statement, saying it called on all sides to come to the negotiating table and “find a peaceful solution” to the conflict.
The spokesman emphasized, in fact, that this is a consistent position that China has had from the beginning, but it is still notable that he answered questions from reporters directly about Putin’s speech and the escalation.
So we don’t see China coming out with a brand new position denouncing Russia. But it is still remarkable that China, once again, is calling for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.
China tried to carve out this position of neutrality, which means it did not denounce Russia for the war – and in fact, it did not call the war… “war” outright.
But China has not given its full support to Russia either. Beijing has not sold weapons to Russia, nor has it explicitly violated sanctions to support the war effort.
But at the same time, from the beginning, China has somehow effectively supported Russia’s stance, echoing the statements made by Russia about NATO expansion as a prelude to war and blaming the West for it.
Along with Wednesday’s statement, we saw other signs that China is uncomfortable in this position. Just last week, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with other world leaders, including Putin, at a regional summit in Uzbekistan.
Putin himself even said he understood Xi had “questions and concerns” about the war. Xi has not addressed these concerns in his public statements, but this is a sign that despite Russia and China having this strong partnership, China is definitely not on Russia’s side in this war. and may have growing concerns about him.
A fairly well-established principle of Chinese foreign policy is: “You don’t interfere in another country’s internal affairs.”
A clean break with Moscow is more difficult for India
India has, in recent months, time and again abstained from votes in the United Nations on the issue of Ukraine.
He voted against Russia in a recent procedural vote to allow Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to address the Security Council. This was the only time it varied.
It is not easy for India to condemn Russia for many reasons. It starts with a very long relationship that India had with the former Soviet Union and continues to have with Russia, which is all about defence.
About 60-70% of the equipment used by the Indian armed forces comes from Russia. This means not only that they need all kinds of spare parts and so on, but they also need maintenance from Russia. So there is this relationship, which is not going to change overnight.
Then there is the energy relationship, which has become much more important in recent months because India has been hit by very high energy prices, which have, of course, gone up because of the war.
Russia stepped in by offering India, along with other countries, a discount on the oil it sells. The exact amount is not known, but some have said it is around 30% below market price. That’s why earlier this summer, for a brief period, Russia replaced Saudi Arabia as India’s second largest oil supplier.
So there are all these very complex deep ties that mean that when Modi thinks about his inner picture, when he looks at inflation, what he needs for his armed forces, he has to balance that with the fact that India, the over the past two to three decades, it has also become very close to the United States and other Western countries.
He does not want to destroy this relationship in any way. So it works in the middle ground, trying to balance the two things. So far, we have to say that he has succeeded.
What should we expect from the UN?
The United Nations does a lot, from famine relief to cultural preservation to nuclear safety.
But the UN has one basic function: To prevent countries from using violence to conquer each other, to invade each other. This is stated in the UN Charter, which President Biden specifically referred to in his speech: Countries may not use force against the territorial integrity or political independence of other countries.
So to have this UN meeting at the same time that Putin has effectively declared or set in motion the process of annexing about 15% of Ukraine’s territory is quite shocking.
In terms of action that might be taken, we are likely to see the US try to table yet another Security Council resolution, which Russia will likely veto, as it has with previous resolutions.
Things may then move to the General Assembly, where there’s a pretty good chance it will vote to condemn Russia’s land grab.
This is the kind of poll that people look for to see which countries are abstaining, which are not voting, to get a sense of the global level of support and the degree to which some of these countries, which have been trying to remain neutral, might end up run out of patience with what they see from the Russian government.
The role of Turkey and the “tumble” Erdogan
Turkey has played a special role in this conflict – as a member of NATO, but also as a country that also has a close, at times strained, defense relationship with Russia. However, he has tried to play both sides of the fence.
It has sold weapons to Ukraine, including drones that the Ukrainian military has used very effectively, but it has also stopped cooperating with other NATO countries and imposing sanctions on Russia.
Turkey has played the role of mediator – it was one of the important countries in brokering the deal, which allowed grain to be exported via the Black Sea.
It was interesting to watch President Erdogan give an interview on Tuesday on PBS. He was asked whether Russia should be allowed to keep some of the land it took from Ukraine. His answer was “no, definitely not. The territories it invaded will be returned to Ukraine.”
If this war ends at the negotiating table, there is a high possibility that Turkey will be one of the mediators of these talks, as it is the country that has spoken to both sides of this war.
If Turkey, of all countries, is saying that Russia cannot keep any of this territory, that is a good sign that there is not much international support for Russia’s political position in this conflict.
Europe’s support for Ukraine and the questions
Polls in various countries continue to show strong public support for Ukraine and against Russia. This is, of course, reflected in the positions of various political leaders across the European spectrum.
But not all. There is Viktor Orbán, Hungary’s authoritarian leader, whom people have called Putin’s “Trojan Horse” within the European bloc.
Due to the increase in energy costs, we have seen protests in various parts of Europe. We saw them in Austria, Italy and elsewhere.
People are calling for more action to bring those prices down, and they’re doing that while at the same time saying they still stand with Ukraine, in many cases.
The question is: What will happen as we head into winter and the energy crisis intensifies?
Elections are coming up in Italy, and the woman most likely to become prime minister, according to all polls, is Giorgia Meloni, who leads a right-wing coalition that includes parties that are not as strongly anti-Putin.
One of her allies, Matteo Salvini, has called for sanctions against Russia to be eased, saying they are actually hurting Italy.
Meloni herself has made it clear that she does not support this view. But if he becomes prime minister, we do not know what will happen within this coalition and what will be the attitude of Italy, a very important member of the European Union.
We are heading into winter and this raises questions about what will happen to public support in Europe as people start to see the effects of this energy crisis.
And then what will happen? This would not be a question if this war had ended two months ago.
But as it continues, yes, there will be more questions about European support. But for now, the support is in place.
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