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  • Dan Moskovitz

Russia's War Against Ukraine: Where the World Stands


Russia’s war against Ukraine has earned near-universal sympathy from the West for the Ukrainian cause. Even while Israel’s war on Gaza has replaced it in the headlines, most westerners still see Ukraine favourably. 

When you talk about nation-states rather than people, the reality gets more complex. $60 billion of vital American aid has been slowed down by Republicans, and the EU has been similarly sluggish in delivering Ukraine the weapons it needs. Recent Russian gains may be spurring both into action, but it’s too early to tell. 

Go wider, and attitudes get even blurrier. So two years on, how has the Russian invasion of Ukraine affected global geopolitics? 

Europe: Aid and the fear of being next 

Europe at least remains surface-level united against Russia. This is especially true in Eastern Europe, who understandably have a lot more concern about Russia given their proximity, and shared history. As a proportion of GDP, Estonia has sent a whopping 3.5% of its GDP in aid to Ukraine; by the same measure, the top six donors to Ukraine are all Eastern European nations. 

Similarly, Finland and Sweden, historically neutral nations, have both abandoned the stance for NATO. Finland’s accession was the fastest in history, and Sweden abandoning neutrality is unprecedented. Since the Napoleonic wars, Sweden has avoided conflict at all costs, including being one of the few countries in Europe to dodge both world wars. 

So if the war was a response to NATO enlargement, Russia has only further cemented it. 

While Ukrainian support is dependent on messy local politics, most of Europe has taken an anti-Russian stance. Even in Europe, however, support is uneven. There is across the continent a growing number of (often heavily coordinated) far-right governments—much like extreme US Republicans, these parties represent an isolationist, anti-EU, and frequently pro-Kremlin position.

Go further afield, and things get even more complicated. 

Africa: Colonial histories and their impact

Nowhere is this more pronounced than in the African Union, which finds itself somewhere in the middle. 

“A number of African states have some sympathy for Russian rhetoric about standing up to western hegemony,” says Otago University’s associate professor of politics Jim Headley, who studies Russian foreign policy. 

By way of example, on UN votes condemning Russia and its invasion, African nations make up the majority of abstentions, far more than nations in the Asian, Pacific, or Latin American regions. Why? One reason is colonialism. Russia is the successor state to the USSR, who pushed for decolonization from the European nations which now support Ukraine. This leads to a fond collective memory of Russia in Africa. 

The warm fuzzies towards Russia also extend to contemporary military assistance; Russia has aided many nations on the continent via its mercenary company Wagner.  

Ukraine by contrast only became independent during the USSR’s collapse in 1991, meaning there is far less connection to Ukraine throughout Africa.. 

“Decolonization is supposed to be about preserving sovereignty, preserving borders and not allowing foreign invasions,” says Headley. “And this is a colonial war on the Russian side. They're doing a full-on invasion of a sovereign state.”

“Yet many African nations seem somewhat sympathetic to Russia invading Ukraine. I think that's because it fits into this narrative of Ukraine being a puppet of the west.”

There’s a lot of contemporary mistrust towards the west, too. Consider the double standard between Ukrainian refugees and refugees from the so-called third world. Or how the west largely failed to get Africa the vaccines it needed during the pandemic. Or the fact that African countries, poor from centuries of colonial resource extraction, are suffering the brunt of a dangerous and expensive climate crisis—while European states emit and amass capital on the back of these stolen resources. Or, as Headley points out, the fact that Ukraine is mostly backed by the same nations arming Israel—potentially tainting it by association. The African Union has historically been a  supporter of the Palestinian cause. 

“Aiding Israel reinforces this idea that the west is always just pursuing its own interests. So any idea of supporting Ukraine because of international law creates scepticism when the west is actively arming Israel,” says Headley.

None of this delegitimizes the Ukrainian cause. However, the chickens of western colonialism have come home to roost, and it’s Ukraine which suffers as a result. 

But as you’ll get when generalising the politics of a continent, there are quirks. As Headley notes, African nations who have recently been on the UN Security Council tend to lean further towards Ukraine. Ghana, who was on the security council between 2022 and 2023 and Sierra Leone, who replaced it, released a joint statement last year decrying Russia’s war of aggression. 

It might be easy to dismiss African states as far removed from the conflict compared to their European counterparts. That’s not a mistake Kyiv is making. They might have to play catch-up to match Moscow’s presence on the continent, but they’re playing it regardless. There are plans to open ten embassies in Africa, with one (notably, in Ghana) already operating. 

New Zealand: Lessons for the future  

So where does this all leave Aotearoa? Both the previous Labour and current National government have sent aid to Ukraine, but the war is very much at the periphery of political debate here. 

Instead, according to Headley the main takeaway is how we approach China, particularly in regards to Taiwan. 

Taiwan is viewed similarly to how Ukraine was before Russia’s invasion; a potential hot spot where conflict could potentially erupt.

An island off the coast of China, Taiwan is the remnants of the capitalist faction who lost the Chinese Civil War way back in the 1950s. China still lays claim to the island, and recognizing Taiwan as a nation risks isolating yourself from China. Taiwan has full relations with just 11 nations plus the Vatican. 

“I recently read about how if Russia could get a quick blitzkrieg victory over Ukraine, it would provide China a model to do the same with Taiwan,” says Headley.

“I’m wary of interpreting the war that strongly. I think there’s a danger of perpetuating an “us against them” with China. Yes, this was an unprovoked war of aggression by Russia, but in the years before the war I was quite critical of how some western policy towards Russia was just not listening to what they were saying and ultimately disregarding their interests.

“I think you have to be wary about doing so with China as well.”

As Headley explains, Russian concerns about not being consulted by the west in either the Iraq invasion, Serbian intervention, and more were continuously ignored and dismissed by the west over several decades. The same occurred when Russia tried to address these concerns in 2009 with a new European Security Treaty, but it similarly went nowhere. 

By 2021 all reasonable Russian concerns had been replaced with war rhetoric, but there was something to them beforehand. 

“It’s hard to work out the right response,” says Headley. “In retrospect, did the us against them mentality cause the problem? Or was Russia always going to be aggressive and should we have done more to bring Ukraine into the fold from the start?”

“It’s a very difficult question to answer. And it’s equally difficult in terms of strategy towards China.”


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