There was great relief last night when the UN General Assembly overwhelmingly condemned Russia’s “attempted illegal annexation” of parts of Ukraine. With 143 countries in favor of the resolution and only 5 – including Russia itself – against, a “clear signalsent to Moscow.
Yet 35 countries representing more than half the world’s population also abstained. Which countries are they? And what makes them not take a stand in a vote on territorial integrity, a fundamental principle of the UN?
The largest of these countries are India and China. China’s position is not surprising. In previous UN votes on the war, China also remained aloof, despite its warm ties to Moscow.
India, which has traditionally stayed aloof from conflicts between the West and Russia, also declined to support or reject the resolution. India’s UN ambassador said the resolution does not help solve pressing problems in the ‘global south’ – a reference to the severe shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities in developing countries.
More striking are the African countries that abstained in all UN votes against the Russian invasion. These include large countries such as South Africa and the Democratic Republic of the Congo, but also many other African states stayed at the level.
An interesting view on this comes from the far north: from the Finnish former Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, who has many contacts in the developing world. After an earlier UN vote against the Russian invasion, he took to Twitter to explain why non-voters should be listened to better. Today he repeated it.
According to Stubb, the African countries are not necessarily against the West or for the Russian invasion. He mentions several motives. First of all, there is a feeling that the conflict in Ukraine is “your war, not ours”. So it is a concern for the West, even though the war has a big impact on the rest of the world.
There are also interests in economic cooperation with Russia. And there is anger: about the colonial past, about climate change caused by the rich West’s large CO2 emissions, about the unequal distribution of corona vaccines, about Europe’s indifference to migrants and about the lack of power that many poorer countries have over the planet lags behind in international institutions.
Former Prime Minister Stubb also points to the perception in Africa that the West is hypocritical because of its inconsistent use of international law. If you want a world order where we all live according to the same rules, he writes, “then you have to do what you say. And we don’t.” Among other things, he points out that the International Criminal Court mainly accuses Africans, while the instigators of the invasion of Iraq are not tackled.
A Eurocentric worldview is dangerous, says Stubb. He warns against the assumption that Russia is in isolation. “That is not the case. The West should learn a lesson from this and start reflecting on its own role in the new world order.”
Accusations back and forth after the adoption of a UN resolution on Ukraine