“You have a historic responsibility on your shoulders. The whole world expects only the best from you,” Turkish President Erdogan told the Ukrainian and Russian delegations on Tuesday before the start of their mutual negotiations. The warring sides met at the historic Dolmabahce Palace on the shores of Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait. The choice of location faithfully reflects the dynamics of the region. Turkey has been trying to maintain relations with kyiv and Moscow since the start of the invasion – and successfully. Thanks to this, Erdogan was able to play the role of mediator in the talks, which – judging by the two delegations – were the most important so far since the beginning of the war.
Despite being a member of NATO, Turkey did not join the sanctions against Russia and Erdogan called Vladimir Putin several times. At the same time, Ukraine stocked up on effective Bayraktar drones and closed the Bosphorus and the Dardanelles to warships (which mainly affected Russian ships). Ukraine’s chief negotiator, David Arakamia, later said after the talks that Turkey “was our friend and our partner”.
Thanks to NATO membership and proximity to Ukraine and Russia, Turkey is relatively active in the conflict, with its neighbor and other regional actor Israel, whose Prime Minister Naftali Bennett was the first foreign leader to visit Putin in the Kremlin after Russia attempted to play a similar role. The invasion began. Israel’s efforts to broker peace seem to have led nowhere. We will also see what impact the Turkish initiative will have.
However, both countries show that even countries that consider themselves Western allies for various reasons have a separate policy on the war in Ukraine. And the “unified approach” that Western statesmen often emphasize applies virtually only to the EU and the US. The rest of the world has much more reserved positions. “It wouldn’t be the first time that the West has confused its own consensus with the global consensus. Most of the world sits on the sidelines and waits for what will happen,” writes Financial Times commentator Edward Luce.
Half of the world economy
When the Russian invasion of Ukraine was voted on at the UN, a (non-binding) resolution “condemning Russia’s actions ‘in the strongest possible way’ and calling for the withdrawal of Russian troops was approved by 141 of 193 states. Along with Russia, only Belarus, North Korea, Venezuela and Syria voted against the resolution. 35 states abstained and 12 did not vote at all.
On the face of it, this is a relatively clear global consensus, but the picture is different when we look at voting not by the number of states, but by the number of people living there. As Luce points out, the 35 countries that remained include China, India, Vietnam and Iraq – and together they make up nearly half of the world’s population.
Most of the states that voted against the Russian invasion at the UN did not even sign on to economic sanctions against Russia. An exception is made by certain American or European allies in Asia – Australia, Japan, South Korea or Taiwan. The reluctance of the rest of the world, on the one hand, does not weaken the sanctions too much – the most sensitive relate to the freezing of the assets of the Russian central bank and the blocking of Russia’s access to the world financial and commercial system, where the dominance of the US dollar plays the most important role. This works in two ways: on the one hand, the United States can prevent Russia from trading in dollars, and on the other hand, few people dare to circumvent their sanctions because they would face similar sanctions.
When US President Joe Biden announced a new package of economic sanctions on March 11, he did not forget to point out that there was a consensus among the G7 group of the most economically advanced countries in the world. Therefore, according to him, it is a “collective action in which more than half of the world economy participates”.
However, the other half does not only include states in South America or Africa, for whom the war in Ukraine may be too distant and their relationship to the conflict is distant. It also includes the aforementioned regional players such as Israel and Turkey, which are directly affected by the deteriorating security situation in the region, or the large Asian economy – and again the aforementioned Russian neighbors India and China.
The two countries have very similar views on the war in Ukraine, despite the big differences between them: they are Asia’s biggest regional competitors and India is still a democracy compared to autocratic China (although that it has fallen in international health monitoring rankings in recent years). Their common reluctance to join in the condemnation of Russian aggression shows the limits of Western influence and the fact that outside Europe Russian aggression is unlikely to lead to such dramatic changes in the foreign policy than in the case of Germany, for example.
Better with Russia than with the United States
Virtually from the start of the war, there have been rumors that China will play a key role in its course and outcome, although it is also geographically far removed from the Ukrainian battlefield. Thanks to Beijing’s good relations with Moscow and the alliance, which has become even more important in the context of Western isolation, China’s influence in Russia is growing. So far, however, there has been no indication that China wants to use this influence to force Russia to end the fighting. On the contrary, at least rhetorically, he more or less sided with Russia: local media repeated Russian narratives of Ukraine’s “military-biological” plans or criticism of the enlargement of NATO (we wrote more about it here).
As Wolfgang Ischinger, until recently the head of the Munich Security Conference, said in a talk given by Harvard University, he believes China could make money as a mediator. . “They now have the opportunity to show the world what influence they have and that they are for peace,” he said. “But the Chinese are reluctant to agree with the United States that they would rather agree with Russia,” he said, adding to the role of tensions between Beijing and Washington in the current situation.
However, even reluctance to support the West still does not mean that China is ready to nod to Russia on everything. And it is clear that Moscow would want more than verbal support from him. According to the US secret service, Russia should have demanded supplies from China, from drones to helicopters to missiles. At the same time, it is an example of the changing dynamics of mutual relations: over the past thirty years, on the contrary, China bought arms from Russia wholesale, now the roles are reversed.
China and Russia have denied the US information, and it is unclear to what extent China is willing to accommodate Russia – not only in arms supplies, but also in stronger support for the Russian economy. US officials have warned that if China helps Russia circumvent sanctions, it will face secondary sanctions. And from all the information available so far, it seems that China is not willing to defend Russia so strongly that it has to pay the price.
However, this does not prevent it from continuing to buy minerals from Moscow – and India too. Both countries take advantage of the fact that due to the boycott of the United States and some Western companies, Russia is trying to find new markets for oil and gas and is ready to sell them at a discount. In particular, more Russian oil has flowed to India in recent weeks than usual. At the same time, China and India play a much bigger role for the Russian economy than the aforementioned Asian countries that have signed on to Western sanctions. As analyst Seid Munyr Khasru told the BBC, 18% of Russian exports go to China and India, while Russia only exports 8% to boycotting Asian countries.
Don’t be limited
Whereas in the case of China, because of “friendship without borders” – which Presidents Putin and Si like to talk about – it was more or less expected that Beijing would not indulge in open criticism of the Russia, while Western states had higher hopes for India. In recent years, India has significantly increased its security cooperation with the United States, where the two countries are united by fears of a growing China.
While India has a long-standing relationship with China, it is also linked to a tradition of military cooperation with Russia: 60% of Indian military technology and equipment comes from Russia. Thus India, like China, abstained from voting at the UN and, apart from the obligatory calls for a peaceful solution, has not yet criticized Russia. However, according to experts, it is not only India’s dependence on Russian weapons that cannot be researched. Since the Cold War, India has sought to maintain neutrality in foreign policy and to side with no one.
“India only exceptionally criticizes someone by name,” Indian foreign policy expert Tanvi Madan explained in the Deep Dish podcast of the US think tank Council on Foreign Affairs. “It wants to keep a diverse portfolio of partners so that it’s not too dependent on anyone, and Russia still plays an important role in that,” she added, noting that there has been some progress in recent years. – India dislikes Russia’s cooperation with China and Pakistan, its two biggest rivals in the region.
Similarly, India watched with trepidation the rapid US withdrawal from Afghanistan last year, after which the Taliban movement, which has links to Pakistan, came to power. “But India does not follow the motto With us or against us. It is ready to come closer to countries because of joint action against China, but it will not isolate Russia. And the United States must matching priorities: if India wants to be able to engage militarily in Asia, then it must bear in mind that it has this capability thanks to supplies from Russia,” Tanvi Madan concluded, which is another example of the situation with many variables.