It's Not Just Bulgarians: Why Half the World Likes Putin
Nearly half of Bulgarians approve of Russia (at an EU average of about 10%), and more than 25% even approve of Putin's war, according to several surveys, the latest of which is from Eurobarometer. But this is clearly not a unique phenomenon. The West is indeed united against Putin, but in the rest of the world the picture is quite different, Lea Frehse and Xifan Yang wrote in an extensive article in the German media “Die Zeit”. “The Western world is always looking at China, not paying attention to the countries located between the geopolitical poles, which declare themselves neutral or even show understanding for Moscow's actions”, the authors claim, recalling that we're talking about 2/3 of the world's population. The article lists some significant facts:
"India, which will displace China as the world's most populous country in a few years' time, imports nearly twenty times more oil and gas from Russia than before the war. Indonesia, the world's third-largest democracy, invited Putin to the G20 summit in November. At the UN General Assembly in March, a number of countries, including Brazil, Israel, Turkey and South Africa, joined in condemning the Russian attack but did not join the sanctions against Moscow. Sudan's ruling military junta backs Putin while the democratic movement is in solidarity with Ukraine. The Indonesian government is trying to follow a middle course, while the majority of the population sympathizes with Vladimir Putin. Sometimes the current discussions in the global South even show satisfaction with the war in Europe: after decades of fueling and interfering in conflicts in the rest of the world, let the West now see what war at home means."
The legacy of colonialism
Thus, the authors arrive at the first of the five motives that dominate the global debate over the war in Ukraine. They recall that in response to a Western call to condemn Russian aggression, then-Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan voiced an expression shared by many of his colleagues in the former colonies: "What do you think is going to happen - he resented. – We’re not your slaves to do whatever you want from us?". Later in the article, we read:
“By inciting anger against the West, populists like Khan are profiling themselves in front of their own people. But protesting against the West's behavior is not just a means of fighting for power. The feelings behind it are really widespread. It is about the suspicion that in Ukraine the West is defending in the first place not the freedom of a sovereign country, but its own hegemony. There has been a lot of talk in Washington or Berlin in recent years about the decline of Western power. In many parts of the world, however, Western dominance is still very real.”
The authors recall that in many of the former Western colonies, Russia benefits from the reputation of the USSR as an ally in the struggle against imperialism and colonialism. In this regard, a number of African governments lightly ignore the fact that Russia's war is currently colonial. A pure sample of double-entry bookkeeping, which is otherwise often blamed on the West. This is the second motive for supporting Putin.
Rebellion against double standards
"Russia has violated international law. Putin wants a regime change in Kyiv, he even denies the right of Ukraine to exist. Ukrainians are heroically defending their country. This is how Western rulers present things," Lea Frehse and Xifan Yang wrote. And they recall that many outside the West ask legitimate questions: "Who violated international law by invading Iraq in 2003? If the Ukrainians do not want to surrender their country, why should the Palestinians give up theirs? In other words: they blame the West that it measures with a double yardstick, not least in terms of the suffering of the civilian population."
At the same time, some of the fiercest critics of Western double standards are not entirely consistent, we read in Die Zeit. The authors cite the example of the Arab left, which sharply criticizes the West's actions in Iraq, Afghanistan or Yemen, but is silent when it comes to Russian war crimes in Syria. Or their inexorably entangle in anti-American conspiracy theories.
The cost of war
“This is the third motive of those who show understanding for Putin. When Europe says that the war in Ukraine is ‘closer’ to us than the wars in distant Africa, it means that due to geographical proximity we identify more strongly with the suffering of Ukrainian families - all the more so because the aggressor Russia openly threatens Europe with nuclear weapons, but the material consequences of the Ukrainian war hit Africans much harder than Western Europeans: rising wheat prices in Ghana are leading to famine, and Nigerian fuel prices are discussing the suspension of all domestic flights. Against the backdrop of spending around the Ukrainian war, many of the world's poorest and most politically unstable countries are at risk of economic collapse."
The authors note that these countries often blame the West, not Putin, for blocking grain exports from Ukraine, because of the sanctions he has imposed. They also recall the popular claim that it was the West that brought these countries to certain forms of dependence and gives examples:
"The refusal of Western agricultural concerns to lift patent restrictions on crops has led many African countries to import almost all cereals from Russia and UkraineAmong these countries is Egypt - until recently one of the largest producers of wheat, which gradually found itself forced to concentrate exclusively on cotton production. Brazil, which is the world's largest exporter of soybeans, is heavily dependent on Russian fertilizers. Rising prices and angry farmers could thwart Bolsonaro's re-election in October. No wonder he said: ‘For us, the issue of Russian fertilizers is sacred, so we will remain neutral’. On June 28, Bolsonaro and Putin held talks on strengthening the strategic partnership, which focused on Russian fertilizers.”
Who needs Russia
The penultimate argument of Putin's international supporters is most directly embodied by Israel. Although a close partner of the United States and Europe, the country refrains from criticizing the Kremlin, the authors write, recalling that the Russian military is still in Syria and the Israeli army must coordinate with them when it decides to launch its aircraft against pro-Iranian groups on Syrian territory. The article quoted Israeli Foreign Minister Lapid with a meaningful sentence: "Our border with Syria is practically a border with Russia."
The authors argue that a number of countries beyond the West use Russia as a counterweight to the United States in international politics. For example, Egypt and Saudi Arabia, America's longtime allies, have come under political pressure from the West since the Arab Spring over human rights abuses, the authors write, adding that Egypt is not only buying a lot of weapons from Russia but also building a Russian nuclear power plant.
India has long been a customer of the Russian arms industry and now benefits from the reductions in crude oil prices that Moscow has given to Delhi since the beginning of the war, we read in the extensive article in Die Zeit, whose authors emphasize that with its neutrality India aims to thwart Russia's transition to the camp of rival China.
What does world order mean here?
At the end of their article, Lea Frehse and Xifan Yang point out that many countries around the world are dissatisfied with the current world order. "In the West, it is often said that the world has turned to a new bloc confrontation: democracies are defending the 'rules and norms' international order,’ while the authoritarian camp, led by Russia and China, is trying to destroy and replace that order. But even in democracies such as India and Indonesia, leading politicians and intellectuals express fundamental doubts about the ‘rules and norms-based international order.’ First, these rules were created by Western victors in World War II and in many respects to the detriment of developing countries. And second, at the latest with the Iraq war, the West has broken its own rules."
The authors recall that the "global South" has long advocated reform of the international system, and countries such as India and Brazil have insisted in vain on becoming permanent members of the UN Security Council. The global financial system is also under Western domination: senior positions in the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund are still held by US and European officials. At the end of their article, the authors scrutinize these calls for a "new world order" and write: "But will a new world order, including hitherto unjust countries, really lead to global solidarity? Will it not turn out simply that have the autocrats expanded their influence?"
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