Russia once again found itself isolated in the United Nations General Assembly, which voted overwhelmingly for an immediate cessation of hostilities in Ukraine. There were only five votes in opposition—from Russia, Belarus, Syria, North Korea, Eritrea, and all authoritarian states, labeled pariahs—and 140 in favour. But there were also 38 countries that abstained, including from China and several Portuguese-speaking African countries (PALOP), specifically Angola, Mozambique and Guinea Bissau.
Not surprisingly, these Portuguese-speaking countries are following Beijing’s lead. China has gained increasing economic clout in Africa, offering low-interest loans – and analysts accuse the Chinese regime of “dumping the debt” of African countries for political control – and investing in infrastructure or extracting raw materials.
Given the overwhelming voices like this Thursday, it would be tempting to assume that Russia is effectively isolated. In fact, there was a deep reaction among the NATO countries and their allies to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. “Most of the world is still on the sidelines, waiting to see how it goes,” Edward Luce, author of books such as The Decline of Western Liberalism (2017), noted in his column in the Financial Times. “This is not the first time that the West has confused its unity with global consensus.”
The point is, if we look at the countries that abstained in the vote to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, we find giants like China, India, Vietnam, South Africa and Iran, in a bloc that includes nearly half of the world’s population.
Beijing’s importance in circumventing Western sanctions on Moscow is well known. But India – which has a long-standing friendship with Russia, its main arms supplier – also plays a role. Indian refineries have already quadrupled their imports of Russian crude, buying at least 13 million barrels since the invasion began, according to Bloomberg’s calculations, taking advantage of the discount.
As for Washington’s calls for New Delhi to think “where it wants to be when the history books are written about this moment,” in the words of White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki, they served little purpose. Ashutosh Pandey, DW’s economics editor, commented: “India’s concerns seem more urgent than considering its place in Western history books.”
And it is not only the countries that abstain from the vote that have shown some openness to undermining sanctions against Russia. Even Saudi Arabia, one of America’s main allies in the Middle East, is considering accepting China’s demand to buy oil in renminbi, which is weakening the dollar. At the same time, he rejected Joe Biden’s calls to increase his oil production, in order to reduce the effects of the energy crisis that worsened after the invasion of Ukraine.
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