“Ukraine and its allies, including London, have threatened Russia during the last 1,000 years with moving NATO to our borders, with canceling our culture; they have harassed us for many, many years.”
“Of course the plans of the NATO for Ukraine they are a direct threat to Russian citizens.”
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That is what Yevgeny Popov, a member of the Duma (Russian parliament) and an influential TV presenter in Russia, told BBC Ukrainecast on April 19.
His views were both surprising and illuminating as to the narrative presented by the Kremlin, very different compared to how the current international landscape is viewed from the West.
To European and Western ears these pronouncements sound almost unintelligible, even coming to seem like a blatant disregard for the carefully documented evidence of what is going on.
However, these are just some of the beliefs not only among supporters of the Kremlin in Russia and the general population there, but also in various other parts of the world.
After Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, the UN held an emergency vote: 141 nations of the 193 UN member states voted a week later to condemn it.
But several major countries chose to abstain, including China, India and South Africa. Therefore, it would be an illusion for Western leaders to believe that the whole world shares NATO’s view that Russia is entirely to blame for this catastrophic war, because it is not.
So why do so many countries remain undecided about Russia’s invasion?
There are many reasons ranging from simple economic or military interest to accusations of Western hypocrisy. to Europe’s colonial past.
There is no single reason. Each country may have its own particular reasons for not wanting to publicly condemn Russia or distance themselves from President Putin.
Cooperation “without limits”
Let’s start with China, the world’s most populous state with over 1.4 billion people, most of whom get their news about Ukraine through state-controlled media, just like much of the people in Russia. .
China received a high-profile visitor to its Winter Olympics shortly before the invasion of Ukraine began on February 24: President Vladimir Putin. A Chinese statement released later said “there was no limit to cooperation between the two countries.”
So did Putin tip off his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, that he was about to launch a full-scale invasion of Ukraine? Absolutely not, says China, but it is hard to imagine that there would not have been even a hint of what would happen to such an important neighbor.
China and Russia may one day end up as strategic rivals, but today they are partners and they share a common contempt – bordering on enmity – for NATO, the West and their democratic values.
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Beijing has already clashed with the US over Chinese military expansion in the South China Sea. He has also clashed with Western governments over his treatment of the Uighur population, his crushing of democracy in Hong Kong and his repeated promise to “bring Taiwan back into the fold” – by force if necessary.
So China and Russia have a common enemy in NATO and the worldview of their respective governments is filtered down to the populations of both countries with the result that, for the most part, they simply do not share the West’s deep rejection of invasion of Russia and the alleged war crimes it has committed in Ukraine.
India and Pakistan have their own reasons for not wanting to antagonize Russia. India gets much of its weapons from Moscow and, after its recent clash with China in the Himalayas, is betting that it will one day need Russia as an ally and protector.
Imran Khan, the recently ousted Prime Minister of Pakistan, has been a fierce critic of the West, especially the United States. Pakistan also receives arms from Russia and needs Moscow’s blessing to help secure trade routes into the interior of northern Central Asia.
As prime minister, Khan went ahead with a previously planned visit to see President Putin on February 24, the same day Russia invaded Ukraine. Both India and Pakistan abstained in the UN vote to condemn the invasion.
Hypocrisy and double standards
Then there is the charge, shared by many, especially in Muslim-majority countries, that the West – led by its most powerful nation, the United States – is guilty of hypocrisy and double standards.
In 2003 the US and UK chose to bypass the UN and much of world opinion by invading Iraq for false motives, leading to years of violence.
Washington and London have also been accused of helping to prolong the civil war in Yemen, by arming the Royal Saudi Air Force, which carries out frequent air strikes there in support of the country’s official government.
For many African states there are other, even more historical, reasons at play. In Soviet times, Moscow flooded that continent with weapons as it sought to confront American and Western influence from the Sahara to Cape Town.
In some places, the colonization of Western Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries left a legacy of lasting resentment towards the West that persists even today.
France, which sent troops to Mali in 2013 to prevent al Qaeda from taking control of the entire country, is not popular in its former colony. So now most of the French troops have left to be replaced by Kremlin-backed Russian mercenaries from the Wagner Group.
And where do the Middle Eastern countries fit into all of this? Not surprisingly, Syria, along with North Korea, Belarus and Eritrea, has backed Russia’s invasion.
Syrian President Bashar al-Assad relies heavily on Russia for his survival after his country was at risk of being invaded by ISIS fighters in 2015.
But even long-standing Western allies such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) have remained relatively silent in their criticism of Moscow, despite voting in favor of the UN resolution.
The de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, has a good relationship with Vladimir Putin and his previous ambassador to Moscow has been on hunting trips with the Russian leader.
It’s also worth remembering that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s relationship with President Biden is largely dysfunctional. Such is their dislike for each other that the two men reportedly refuse to answer each other’s phone calls.
Before that, when world leaders met in Buenos Aires for the G20 Summit in late 2018, just weeks after the West accused the Saudi crown prince of ordering the grisly murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, most Western leaders treated the Saudi prince with aloofness.
But Putin, on the contrary, gave him a warm greeting. That is not something the Saudi leader must have quickly forgotten.
None of this means that all the countries mentioned actively support this invasion, apart from Belarus. On March 2, in the vote on war at the UN, only five states voted for Russia… and Russia was one of them.
But what all of this does mean is that, for multiple reasons, the West cannot assume that the rest of the world shares its view of Putin, or sanctions, or the West’s willingness to openly confront Russia’s invasion with supplies every ever more lethal weaponry for Ukraine.