Behind the Global South's hesitancy to criticize Russia's invasion of Ukraine

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An elderly man walks past a car shop that was destroyed after a Russian attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (Leo Correa/AP)
An elderly man walks past a car shop that was destroyed after a Russian attack in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine. (Leo Correa/AP)

For much of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, commentators in the U.S. and Europe have lamented that only a few countries outside of the West have stood for Kyiv.

“I actually do wish that countries would take a firmer stance on Russia's invasion and Ukraine because it's a clear violation of international law," Lynn Kuok says. "And I think what is important is for countries not to see international law as separate to their realist interests.”

Meanwhile, Russia’s taken direct action to grow its influence in those countries.

Just last week, Russian President Vladimir Putin promised up to 50,000 tons of free grain exports to at least six African countries in the next few months.

So, why has the West fallen out of touch with the rest of the world?

“The situation in the Global South is nuanced. It’s not black and white. But … more needs to be done to engage with the Global South," Dmytro Kuleba says.

Today, On Point: A look behind the Global South’s caution towards aligning with the West.


Comfort Ero, president and CEO of the International Crisis Group, a transnational independent organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict.


Part I

MEGHNA CHAKRABARTI: Hypocrisy is a common feature on the world stage. The “do as I say, not as I do” approach to diplomacy has become a de facto doctrine used by powerful nations exercising their own self-interest while accusing other nations of exercising their own self-interest.

Take, for example, last week’s Russia-Africa summit held in St. Petersburg. Russian President Vladimir Putin met with the leaders of 17 African nations. At the last summit in 2019, 43 African nations were present. Nevertheless, Putin took the opportunity in this year’s summit to present himself as a magnanimous leader easing the plight of nations in need. He offered up to 50,000 tons of grain exports to at least six African countries in the next several months. All for free.

PUTIN [Translation]: Our country is ready to make up for the Ukrainian grain – both on commercial basis and free of charge to those countries in Africa that are in dire need, especially since we expect a record-high harvest this year.

CHAKRABARTI: That interpretation provided by Global News. Now, never mind the fact that at almost the exact time Putin was declaring his largess, Russia was also bombing grain silos and major grain exporting ports in Ukraine. Russian missiles destroyed 60,000 tons of grain in just one attack on the port city of Odessa. And never mind the fact that the Black Sea is infested with mines, making marine shipments of grain nearly impossible. And never mind that Russia also pulled out of a hard-won international agreement to allow the global export of Ukrainian grain. Never mind all that.

Because Vladimir Putin said, at the Russia-Africa summit, that it's Western leaders sneering with hypocrisy. Putin said, “the Western countries are obstructing supplies of our grain and fertilizers” while also “blam[ing] us for the current crisis in the world food market.”

So how does that fall on the ears of the Global South? Leaders in Africa, the Middle East, Asia, and South America certainly see through Russia’s ruse. But they also don’t think Putin is entirely wrong about Western hypocrisy, either.

Fact is, since the beginning of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, many nations of the Global South have been unwilling to overtly condemn Russia. That lack of instantaneous alignment with the West has frustrated U.S. and European leaders. Here’s German Federal Minister for Foreign Affairs Annalena Baerbock in February.

ANNALENA BAERBOCK: Neutrality is not an option. Because then you are standing on the side of the aggression. And this is a plea we are also giving next week to the world. Again, please take a side, a side for peace, a side for Ukraine, a side for the humanitarian international law, and these times, this means also delivering ammunition so Ukraine can defend itself.

CHAKRABARTI: In response, many leaders and analysts from the Global South have said, "Stop with the Western paternalism. Stop with the lecturing. Stop with the hypocrisy." Or, as Filipino scholar Walden Bello put it on the show Democracy Now last March:

WALDEN BELLO: They really fear that there is an agenda on the part of the U.S., that while this is an unjustified invasion, the U.S. has in fact provoked it and is trying to take advantage of it at this point in time.

CHAKRABARTI: This is On Point. I’m Meghna Chakrabarti.

So, an important question for this moment: How should we best understand the Global South’s perspectives on the war in Ukraine? What does it tell us about the nature of U.S. power, and about how geopolitical influence is changing?

Comfort Ero joins us today. She’s the President and CEO of the International Crisis Group, a transnational independent organization committed to preventing and resolving deadly conflict. Dr. Ero, welcome to On Point.

COMFORT ERO: Thank you very much for having me.

CHAKRABARTI: So first of all, can you give us your read on how nations of the Global South interpreted or read Putin's announcement about that 50,000 tons of grain?

Because I mentioned all the reasons why they might see it as a hypocritical move by Putin, but what's your assessment?

ERO: I think it's still very much part of the efforts by Putin, by Russia to show that he's on the side of the continents, the side of Global South countries, that he says he wants to engage them to show that it's not because of him that they are facing food insecurity or any other sort of insecurity or economic shocks as a result of his own invasion into Ukraine.

But at the same time, I think the countries of the Global South recognize and see the economic impact of the conflict on their countries. They see the inflation, they see the rise in food and oil prices.

I think they also recognize to a certain degree, some of them, even if they still are hedging, they recognize that this war is having quite a negative impact on them. And some of them have chosen not to support Putin. I think he's largely also disappointed that he hasn't managed to sway all of the Global South.

I think when you look at the facts on the ground, when you look at the vote from the general assembly, for example, the two that happened last year, the numbers don't necessarily stack up in Putin's favor, quite frankly.

CHAKRABARTI: So you have written though, and you just mentioned this word again, about nations of the Global South hedging their bets.

Can you explain what you mean?

ERO: It's long tradition and I think it stems from the 1960's, '70s non-aligned movement when the group of countries chose very carefully not to get caught up in the Cold War, period. Now, I would contend, I wouldn't argue or resist the argument from some today that we are entering into a Cold War period.

Certainly, some lines have been drawn and certainly some countries have chosen to remain neutral. Some have decided to abstain. Not to back any one side in the invasion. So nobody's necessarily backing Russia, at the same time, not necessarily backing China.

I think this is in keeping with what we're seeing traditionally over the last few years and decades. That a number of those countries that are non-aligned, that number of those countries now have choices. They can look East, they can look West, they can look towards India, they can look towards Russia. So that type of international relations hasn't necessarily changed.

I think what is very clear in this situation is why either side, some Western capitals and Russia were trying to get allies on either side of the invasion. That certainly hasn't happened. And these countries are, to use the economic term, hedging, are not wanting to be locked into any particular camp and waiting to see how things land.

So I think that's what I mean by hedging. And that's what I mean by neither side or number of countries wanting to sit this out and not tie themselves to one particular side in this conflict.

CHAKRABARTI: I see. And so just to understand a little more clearly, are you saying that the key difference now versus from the '60s and '70s is, as you said, countries now have more choices in terms of relationships and perhaps even closer ties that they might form in, you looked at, said, looking East, West, et cetera, and that did not exist as clearly or powerfully before.

ERO: No, I think in the Cold War, I think there were definitive camps. You had those where the Soviet Union clearly backed certain countries. And you saw there were a number of countries in the U.S. orbit. But this time round, understanding, I think we need to understand where a number of countries in the Global South sit now, more mature, not getting caught up in ideological battlegrounds and having a little bit more confidence.

And certainly, since the invasion by Russia, having a lot more confidence to assert their own positions economically, politically, as to what they want to do and how to define their own foreign and national security interests going forward. That really is what's been happening in the last decade, two decades, and I think Ukraine further exposed that.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay. We should probably lay out a couple of definitions here before we proceed further into the analysis. Because some people when they speak of the Global South also include China, for example. I want to hold China aside for just a moment and come back to the role that Beijing has to play here.

But when you speak of the Global South, tell me a little bit more specifically how you define that.

ERO: Actually, I wouldn't leave China out of this calculation. Let me tell you how I read it. Since the 24th of February when the invasion broke out we started talking about the Global South.

It started with China and the position of China. And then it quickly shifted towards India and the balancing act that India was playing, vis-a-vis continuing to trade with Russia, including on arms. And then it shifted to Africa, around about the time of the general assembly last September when President Macky Sall, at the time, the chairman of the Africa Union speaking and warning against the Western Capitals making this a loyalty test between the West and the rest, and particularly Africa.

And then at the time that President Lula came into power then we saw the narrative shifting towards, or the labeling of certain countries. Now Latin America, as Global South and Lula was seen as an internationalist, or a lot of hope pinned that he would take a very front leaning role on the question of the Global South or be like the spokesperson championing what was going on or championing the sort of the Western support or the rest of the world support vis-a-vis Ukraine.

And you saw both President Lula and his counterpart in Columbia say, "No the same stays with us. We are not going to back or we're not going to align ourselves with the West." We recognize that the invasion is wrong, but we are not going to necessarily fall behind a Western position or Russian position.

So it's been interesting how this narrative of Global South have moved from various geographies from China to India. To Africa and Latin America.

CHAKRABARTI: Okay, so when we come back, I want to talk with you more about what you've written as the cognitive dissonance that the West's attitudes toward the Global South, however its definition has changed over time, how that raises some cognitive dissonance among those very countries. So that's what we'll talk about when we come back.

 Part II

CHAKRABARTI: We're talking about the Global South's view of the war in Ukraine and what it tells us about the nature of Western and more specifically, U.S.-global Influence today.

Now Dr. Ero, you've written extensively about various perspectives held by nations of the Global South when it comes to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. And you wrote something quite interesting, you said, "My colleagues at International Crisis Group and I have argued that the West is right to offer Ukraine military backing, but we should be humble enough to understand why this approach creates a sense of cognitive dissonance outside the West."

So tell me more about that.

ERO: Yes, I think you're quoting from the article I wrote from foreign policy. I remember the rest of it is some of the Global South, the West is demanding sort of their loyalty, like a loyalty test over Ukraine, but not necessarily showing them solidarity in their sort of hour of need.

And it was very much the feeling that a number of countries had, a number of countries, for example, when I would speak to people in the Gulf region, I remember when I was in Doha, the Doha Forum last March and when Ukraine was compared to Aleppo.

The audience reminded that, we have our Aleppo, we have our own crisis, our own conflicts in this region. We have our own conflicts here in Africa and the entire world is not being asked to back one side or the other in these different crises. And so why are you demanding the same from us?

Now, this should not be confused, because I think one of the things I've made pretty clear in the conversations that I've had is that there is clear sympathy towards Ukraine. There is a recognition of the territorial aggression that has been caused here. The principles are up for grabs here.

I think what has left a number of countries in the Global South, irritated and frustrated is a sense in which certain lives matter more than others. And I think that was what was also, and I think still frustrates a number of countries, non-Western countries, there's a sense that the lives of Europe matter more than the lives say of those who have been fighting for countless years, either in Ethiopia, or over the whole issue of Israel-Palestine or other conflicts that you can name. And that was very much what I was hearing in different quarters in the conversations that I was having, whether in Latin America, in Africa or across the Gulf region.

CHAKRABARTI: And when I played that clip from the German federal Minister for Foreign Affairs a little earlier, and she said that neutrality is not an option because then you are standing on the side of aggression. How do you think that falls on the ears of leaders of the Global South?

ERO: I think, again, let's underline it. They're not, at least the global leaders I've spoken to in a number of these countries, non-Western countries, and even the people themselves are not, and it's a tragedy that this is happening in the name of Ukraine. They're not questioning the right of Ukraine sovereignty. Why would countries themselves who have been colonized and who have benefited from a number of these principles, territorial integrity, sovereignty, and who have benefited from the UN charter, now usurp that charter?

So that's one level of debate. At the same time, I think there is, I think it's also worth noting, that a number of these countries themselves, I think there are different reasons why some of them have chosen to hedge. Some of them do have close relationships with Russia. Some of them have Defense PACS with Russia.

And they're very careful in their wording, both publicly and privately. Some will tell you that in private it's a matter of our national security, but in public, will be very careful in how they say it. So there's recognition also of that. But I don't think that this necessarily suggests that all of them are not neutral. And I think it's worth underlying that the Global South is not monolithic. I think there are different countries in the Global South, as well.

CHAKRABARTI: Exactly. Which is why, I don't know exactly. I can't tell you what goes behind, goes on behind closed doors in diplomatic meetings.

You definitely know better than I do on that. So the most insight that we have as the general public are these public statements. And so that's why I'm wondering, If indeed the west i.e., Western Europe and the United States seek greater diplomatic support, let's say, from these nations of the Global South.

Does it do them, first of all, does it do them any good to use the kind of language that I just quoted? And B, what are they misunderstanding about the approach and the needs of African nations or South American nations? Because if they understood those needs better, how would the German foreign Minister or President Biden change their messaging and approach to these countries?

ERO: Good question. Sometimes it feels as though it's a dialogue of the deaf, that sometimes Western leaders, in a sense, need to do a better job at listening and to recognize the concerns of a number of these non-Western countries, as well. I also think it's worth recognizing that it's, again, and I want to underline that it's unfortunate that it's the war or the invasion of Ukraine in which these frustrations, this sort of irritation with the West is being negotiated or it's been dealt with.

It's unfortunate that it's happening on the altar of Ukraine's very difficult fight for its own survival.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah. Dr. Ero, can I just step in here for one second and forgive me for interrupting, but you have rightly pointed out twice now, that no one wishes this happening because of the deaths of thousands of people and the illegal invasion of a nation. I totally understand that. This is not about Ukraine, per se. And the atrocities going on there.

ERO: But the West has, But the west has, some, have made it sound as though it's about Ukraine.

CHAKRABARTI: Yeah exactly. So this is why I'm saying it. I think the problem in itself is laid bare, even more starkly by the fact that you feel like you have to say that. Whereas we're talking about nations of the West, particularly the United States that went ahead and invaded Iraq, invaded Afghanistan, supported all sorts of, through material and military and economic support, all sorts of bloody battles in different countries in the Global South.

And we never really once in this country had honest conversations about, "It's unfortunate that we're having these talks based on the deaths of a quarter million Iraqis." So it's that kind of, I keep using the word hypocrisy because I'm not sure what other word is appropriate here, that is really rife in this whole discussion and it's hard to see past it.

ERO: Yeah. And I think that's a challenge, and it's the value that you place on one life over the other. I think the global tendency to sit the Ukraine war out reflects frustrations in much of the world at the way Western powers have exercised their power over a few decades.

I think the war's also revealed a sharp divergence between the way the West understands global politics and the lived experience of people in other parts of the world. I think also too often, even Western officials who recognize the previous mistakes, and you cite Ukraine, we can also cite Libya, for instance, also brush off the injustice that a number of these regions feel, and I think we shouldn't have, and I've said it in another article, that we shouldn't be under any illusion about, there's double standards. You talk about hypocrisy and what it means when you start quoting the rules-based order, because the immediate reaction you get is whose rules are you talking about?

Because the very rules that you are talking about are the ones that have been usurped during the time of Libya and during the time of Ukraine. At least that's the argument you get from the other side, from the non-Western countries. So I think this is what has been exposed in the last year.

The number of countries feel that they have to make these comments now and to outline their frustrations that we never heard strongly in the past. And then it's coming out more and more today, and I think a number, a few by the narrative prevalent in Western capitals that the war is an existential global threat.

Not least more than, no more of a threat than the conflicts that they face at home, like climate change, for example, like food scarcity, like debt, for example, or any other war. So many chafe at this notion that you question their position, you question issues around neutrality and a number of them say, "Where were you at our time of need?

We didn't see the same urgency both at the humanitarian level, and we did not see the way in which you have innovatively used the security council and even the UN journal assembly to get everybody rallied around Ukraine. Now, I want to underline that I consider, and Crisis Group does consider Ukraine to be an existential threat to global insecurity.

We do see it as a matter of international peace insecurity. The gravest threat probably since Iraq. But you do have this conundrum that a number of non-Western countries have challenged the West and its own performance over the last three or four decades.

CHAKRABARTI: Yes. Yeah. Point taken.

So let me just in a sense argue a slightly different point of view here. And I don't mean argue as in being argumentative, but in the spirit of informed debate here. Because you're exactly right. The international Crisis Group, and obviously including, and also many other countries around the world, see the Russian invasion of Ukraine as an existential threat.

So that brings me back to the fact that surely, and I think you said this, but surely many countries of the Global South also see it that way. Not the least because of the food insecurity, right? That we started the hour on given the Ukraine's importance regarding grains globally.

So I guess I wanted to point that out again because certainly from the beginning, from February of last year, these same nations must have seen Russia's aggression as potentially having spillover effects on their own countries, not directly through violence, but through things like food.

And if that's the case, why not speak out against Russia earlier?

ERO: That's a good question and this is why I say that I think we should unpack what we mean by the Global South. If you look at the votes that took place at the General assembly, a narrative has been portrayed that somehow the Global South spoke as one.

And if you look very closely, a number of countries, for example, in Africa, did abstain. So the same in Latin America. But a number of significant countries didn't abstain. They voted in defense of the resolution last March, for example, and a number of them also voted when there was the referendum annexation vote at the general assembly a few months later.

My own sense is that there's a general disappointment with some, there's a general disappointment, for example, with South Africa. So when a number of the Western capitals talk about the continent, they say, "Oh, Africa has largely not." That's not true. And my sense is that this is largely because a number of Western countries are disappointed.

Specifically with South Africa, Nigeria did not abstain. It voted in support of the resolutions. Ghana also. There are 54 countries on the continent. They all have different views. Only two supported the Russian vote, and they were the ones that we would've predicted in any case. And then if you look closely at why these countries positioned themselves the way they did, they separated the suffering of Ukraine from the wider geopolitical calculations that they make.

And they also say that if you accept the argument that I'm a sovereign nation, that will extend to my right to decide what my foreign policy and national security interests are. And you'll remember earlier in our conversation, I said that a number of these countries hedging because of their own national security concerns, and that requires some of them rightly or wrongly to sit out, sit out outside of the taken aside in the Russia's invasion into Ukraine. Now, you'll recall on the eve of Russia's invasion to Ukraine, the person who spoke out in defense of multilateralism was an African diplomat.

At the security council, the Kenyan permanent representative, so we shouldn't forget this side of the story as well. And as I said, a number of countries, whether in Latin America or elsewhere, have been very careful in lending their voice, an important voice to what's happened in Ukraine.

But at the same time, much of their criticism, much of their agitation, much of their frustration is towards the West. Now, I will say one more thing that I think is worth bearing in mind. To go back to your earlier question, that although the West sometimes has shown itself not to listen, or to pay lip service to the concerns of a number of these countries.

Ukraine, however, has been listening. It has been listening to the growing concerns and it does want to engage with the Global South. And it has been doing so. For example, foreign minister Kuleba announced earlier this year in, I think it was in May, that his country plans to scale up its own diplomacy in a number of Global South countries, including Africa.

And one of the plans is to open 10 to 12 embassies. And it's doing this to counter Russia.

Part III

CHAKRABARTI: Dr. Ero, it still stops me in my tracks repeatedly when countries in the Global South have to make it clear that part of their decision-making process or their approach to any set of geopolitical tensions is grounded in needing to protect the interest of their own citizens, as you mentioned a couple of times.

It's disappointing that we're still at a place where nations like the United States always behave in a manner that would protect its own citizens and say so loudly and proudly, but somehow look upon other nations doing the same thing as acts of disloyalty. It is disappointing.

So in terms of the West view of the Global South. I wanted to state that because there also is the question of whether there are things about Russia itself that some nations, again, not all, but some nations of the Global South actually find more appealing.

And let me give you an example. One, and this is from many decades ago, but India at one time had very positive and closer relations with the then Soviet Union than it did with the United States. Because the United States had chosen instead to have closer ties with Pakistan.

And so I wonder, are there things now about Russia, whether it be one of the last bastions of, now I have to call it Putin-esque communism or other things that Russia can provide that actually make some countries in the Global South look more positively upon their relations with Russia.

ERO: Yes, that's a good question. And we are talking at a time when, as you said up top, the Russia-Africa Summit has just finished. But and at the same time, we've got this phenomenon of Wagner providing an alternative sort of security umbrella. At a time where France has found itself on the back foot having to withdraw from Mali and Burkina, and we've seen the way in which sort of Russia is stepping in with the old format of providing security defense agreements.

Providing military hardware to a number of countries that are vulnerable, that have been facing a period of conflict. So Central Africa Republic is one where Wagner, for example, continues to be an essential, provide an essential support to the regime there. Mali, where the country has faced two coups in recent times and has become reliant again on Russia, both in the form of Wagner.

So those, those are two good examples, and that in terms of regime survival, Russia appears to provide an interesting value proposition. Doesn't ask any questions, provides that short term, immediate security apparatus for weak and vulnerable countries. What's interesting about Wagner is that it doesn't do it from some altruistic motive.

There are gold and the other critical minerals that are leaving the country, so that you pay yourself as you go. Because the state can't afford to pay in any other way. And it's a very short-term proposition, no questions about human rights, no questions about democracy, no lecturing according to these countries.

Russia comes in and helps bolster us, but I should underline it's very short term. It doesn't, it's not solid. It's not based on any strong foundation. It is about regime survival, particularly in the countries that I've mentioned. And previously, not that long ago, Sudan.

But again, we shouldn't overstate the relevance or the importance of Russia's footprint across the continent. A number of these countries, even the ones that are well, are set aside, the ones that I've mentioned, but there are a number of countries that still look to the West as an important player, still have strong trading links with the West. And still have strong political relationships and export relationships with the West, and don't necessarily want to give that up.

But there are times when they are under significant pressure and where it's really about regime survival that you see a number of countries turn into other countries that may provide less scrutiny, in the way that the West does.

CHAKRABARTI: So you mentioned not overstating Russia's footprint, but what about China's footprint in these countries as well?

Could we speculate here for a moment? What if China became more vocal regarding its stance in the Ukraine war? Would that change how some of these nations of the Global South feel about what they might be able to say or do on the global stage?

ERO: I'm not sure what you mean, but China and Brazil for example, and South Africa. What binds these three countries is that they've all put down, in their own different ways, peace proposals, they've all put down some form of idea of negotiation and mediation. So they're all skirting around the idea. And certainly, when you look across the look across the number of countries that have been vocal in the last year or so, countries that you may want to define as middle powers.

That's the other label that's come out in the last year, apart from the Global South. When you want to, when you look at these activist middle power is what binds them all, is that in their different ways, they've come up with ideas for stopping the wall. Now, you talked about why there is frustration vis-a-vis the West.

It's because some of these propositions haven't necessarily been taken seriously. Admittedly the French one that the China one's a list of principles as opposed to real issues around negotiations and mediation. But nonetheless, they've put down ideas to help think through mediation. And Zelenskyy himself hasn't turned his back against some of these. He looked with interest, for example, at what China was offering. And I think none of us, a number of us will recall that one of Ukraine's largest trading partners before the invasion was China. Hence why that becomes an interesting relationship.

But I think it's worth recognizing that they're all in their different ways hedging, wanting to see where things are going. China doesn't necessarily like this messy conflict. Putin promised him a quick win. And if you remember, both Xi Jinping and Putin saw each other ahead of the Chinese Olympics.

And, he gave him a sense that this will be a quick win. And China's looking at that and thinking if this is how this is going, we also have our own contested issue in our neighborhood, Taiwan. And I think there is, looking at that, looking at how the West has reacted to Russia and beginning to look at what that means for its own geopolitical environment and how things will play out in that region as well.

So all these countries have reasons to be concerned about the length of the war, but also to be concerned about the future stability. Not just in Europe, but elsewhere in the world.

CHAKRABARTI: All right. I guess what I mentioned China, to be more specific, what I was thinking of is that China has made massive investments in, let's say, many nations on the African continent.

And that preserving that relation, that relationship, I would guess is an important consideration when it comes to global diplomacy that those African nations might engage in. Is it in their best interest again to not want to cross China and come out, let's say, with exclusive support for and vociferous support for Ukraine, whereas as you said, China's been a bit quiet and maybe disquieted as well by what's been happening? Does that make more sense?

ERO: Yeah. It's interesting the way you phrased it. When you look at, let's look at South Africa for example, and South Africa's trade with Russia, I think it's negligible with I think less than 1% of exports going to Russia.

Whereas South Africa's trade relationships are dominated by China. I think China first and then, or maybe China and U.S. are not too far apart. And then Europe, as well. So they, again, they don't necessarily want to make it an either-or. I think they want to be able to explore and see and have relationships with other countries.

And China, again, has been an important player on the continent. It is invested heavily on the continent. I think there are a number of countries that have concerns about China's interests. Again, it's not altruistic. Again, China's own sort of strategic reaching out to Africa is also part of an effort to make sure it builds up its own allies, alliances and it sees what's happening in Ukraine as a way of giving.

The fact that a number of countries haven't allied with the West has given the west a bloody nose, as well. So in the same way, although it's being careful how it's positioned itself, it also sees that the West, to a certain degree or assumes that the West, actually, it doesn't assume that the West is distracted. Because it also has the U.S.-China competition has heightened, and quite frankly, I think that overshadows international politics more than Russia's invasion into Ukraine.

More than the U.S.-Russia standoff or the Western standoff that you see with Russia today.

CHAKRABARTI: So clearly, though, we still have a situation where nations of Western Europe and the United States and Canada, et cetera, are still seeking support from the countries of the Global South that we've talked about today, regarding how they view the Russian invasion of Ukraine.

How concretely do you think the Global South view of the war in Ukraine, actually, what's the concrete impact of their views on this war?

ERO: Look, I think it's worth noting that there's something we shouldn't overlook. I think the strength of the Western Resolve vis-a-vis what's happening in Ukraine, but also the current state of international relations, stems largely from the West's own security calculus that it's strategically important that there is a Ukrainian victory.

I think what is very clear is that while a number of Western countries recognize the frustration, and I've tried to speak to that frustration, and I've tried to put in place policies or commitments or made me commitments to address that. Like the food insecurity, or Biden saying that the African Union should be part of the G-20, for example. They're unlikely to be swayed by the pressure of the Global South. And we said this recently, for example, ahead of the NATO conference, in that much as a discontent in non-Western capitals made perturb western leaders, the West security is more immediate and that will always be the overriding priority.

ERO: For example, a number of U.S. officials and even Western European officials speak very candidly about the need to separate or compartmentalize disconcerts that you're hearing from the Global South, from the need to ensure victory for Ukraine, for example. So they recognize that, but that's not going to distract them from what they need to do, which is to ensure that Ukraine lands well on the map.

That it's in a position when it's appropriate to negotiate so that they're not going to give up even though they recognize the frustration, even though they've paid lip service to the Global South. Speaking out against the way in which the West has asked them all to back Ukraine, even though they're frustrated over things like the climate change, climate financing.

The whole sort of, for example, vaccine, lack of vaccine distribution. The West has this, they pay lip service to it. They make grand commitments. You heard it at G-7. That's not going to change the way in which they view the immediacy, the threat in which Russia's invasion poses not just to Europe, but to global, to international relations going forward.

And that I think is the conundrum the number of non-Western countries face. Because we really haven't seen any real, sort of any real outcome from all the various commitments that we've heard, whether it's in the GA assembly or the recent G-7 or even the recent Paris summit that President Macron held a month or two ago.

That's the reality in which a number of Global South countries are operating, that the fundamentals haven't changed despite the rhetoric and despite the lip service.

CHAKRABARTI: We have, oh, not even a minute left here, but I want to return to something you said earlier, in your Foreign Policy piece.

Again, that was from March of this year. You said the global health isn't necessarily slipping away from the West. But that, as you've said several times today, there's a misunderstanding of what the motivations and concerns are of the Global South. So what's one thing you would suggest the West changes now, presuming they get a better understanding of the needs of the Global South.

What would you suggest they change? Sorry, I'm giving you 20 seconds to answer that, forgive me.

ERO: I think, look, I think the West needs to meet the Global South on its terms and understand that they need to address their concerns and their interests. And I think one crucial element is on debt relief to help stem the economic crisis, bring in several vulnerable countries in the Global South.

I think that's really important. A lot of lip service has been paid to dealing with economic recovery, but we haven't seen any real sort of change. And a big test is how willing they are, how willing advanced economies are going to recognize the responsibility that they have in addressing the debt relief.

This program aired on July 31, 2023.


Jonathan Chang Producer/Director, On Point
Jonathan is a producer/director at On Point.


Meghna Chakrabarti Host, On Point
Meghna Chakrabarti is the host of On Point.



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