Nations are resisting economic sanctions and voicing criticism over the Ukraine invasion, fearful of political and economic repercussions from Moscow or Beijing

By Joe Parkinson, David Luhnow and Juan Forero
April 14, 2022


Western leaders seeking to build a global coalition to isolate Russia over its war on Ukraine are facing pushback from the world’s largest developing nations, including the democracies of India, Brazil and South Africa.

The resistance, much of it from economic self-interest, limits the pressure on President Vladimir Putin and spotlights factions in the global community that recall the Cold War, when many countries tried to steer clear of the rivalry between the U.S. and Soviet Union.

The U.S. and its allies in Europe and elsewhere have imposed economic sanctions against Russia and provided billions of dollars in military aid to Ukraine since the Feb. 24 invasion. The united front was praised for rejuvenating a flagging Western alliance.

Yet even after the massacre of civilians in Bucha, Ukraine, 24 countries of the 141 United Nations member states voted last week against removing Russia from the United Nations Human Rights Council; 58 member states abstained, including India, Brazil, Mexico, Indonesia and South Africa.

While U.S. and European leaders have accused Mr. Putin of war crimes in Ukraine, leaders in the developing world, from Mexico’s Andrés Manuel López Obrador to India’s Narendra Modi, have refused to criticize the Russian leader.

The bulk of the economic sanctions on Russia are being shouldered by members of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other close U.S. allies such as Australia, Japan and South Korea.

“One of the consequences of this is the Biden administration is going to come back to a recognition that our real buddies, our real fellow travelers, are in Europe and northern Asia,” said John Feeley, a former U.S. ambassador and diplomat. “It will be to the detriment of perhaps Africa and Latin America where this was an opportunity for those regions and India, especially, to say, ‘Look we may have our differences…but we stand for some very clear democratic, sovereignty-based, international rules-based principles.’ ”

The split opens avenues for Russia to circumvent Western sanctions and allows Moscow to say it retains the support of nations around the world. Saudi Arabia, which has a historic security partnership with the U.S., has refrained from condemning Russia’s invasion and rebuffed Washington’s call to pump more oil to both tame surging prices.

A day before President Biden landed in Europe last month to shore up international support for Ukraine, ambassadors from what are known as the BRICS economies—Brazil, India, China and South Africa—smiled for photos with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and then met for talks on enhancing mutual cooperation. In the hourlong meeting, covered by Russian state TV, Mr. Lavrov told the ambassadors that Moscow was a victim of an “unprecedented economic war.” None criticized the Russian invasion or Mr. Putin.

“Our position is not that this is not our problem. Our position is that we are for peace,” said India Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar on the day his country abstained from the U.N. vote against Russia. “Indian foreign policy decisions are made in Indian national interest, and we are guided by our thinking, our views, our interests.”

India, a longtime Russia ally, doesn’t want to alienate Moscow and drive it closer to Beijing, a regional rival.

New Delhi hosted top U.S. and U.K. officials for talks on Ukraine this month and meantime held separate meetings with Mr. Lavrov on a proposal to pay for Russian oil in rubles instead of dollars, a way for Moscow to evade sanctions. India in recent days bought millions of barrels of Russian crude at a hefty discount, Indian officials said, and could buy more.

“Now is the time to stand on the right side of history,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, “not funding and fueling and aiding President Putin’s war.”

World order

Chinese leaders have positioned themselves as speaking for developing nations about Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. After meeting with African and Asian foreign ministers, China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, spoke of a disquiet among developing nations at being pressured to take moral positions on complex international questions.

China sees Russia as an ally in countering the U.S. and its Western allies. The two neighbors seek to dismantle the U.S.-led world order and allow Beijing and Moscow to hold sway over their respective regions.

The past two decades have seen a shift in how the developing world views the U.S., Russia and China. Moscow has spent billions on expanding trade, diplomatic ties and military ties, from selling weapons to Venezuela and India to delivering wheat exports to much of Africa. Beijing has been flexing its economic muscle with the building of dams, roads, bridges, pipelines and railways in dozens of countries world-wide through its Belt-and-Road initiative.

The U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in 2003, and the subsequent images of Iraqi prisoners tortured at Abu Ghraib prison, fed perceptions in some countries that the U.S. was guilty of the same violations of sovereignty it claimed to oppose. “This is part of the legacy of the 2000s and the war on terror,” said Odd Arne Westad, a professor of history at Yale University.

Officials in emerging economies trying to recover from the Covid-19 pandemic fear Western sanctions will make things worse. In Sudan, which imports around 80% of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine, the price of bread has nearly doubled over import disruptions. Reliance on Russian and Ukrainian crops stretches from Turkey to North Africa. Agricultural producers depend on Russian fertilizers.

Egypt, a military ally of the U.S., condemned Russia’s invasion at the U.N., and then criticized the Western sanctions. Analysts said the mixed response reflected worries that Washington could ease its decadeslong security ties in the Middle East and force greater reliance on Moscow as an arms supplier.

For some nations, refusal to criticize Russia reflects a desire to please China. Demand for such goods as Brazilian iron-ore and Argentine soybeans boosted China past the U.S. as the top trading partner in most South American countries. Beijing’s bilateral trade with Africa rose 35% last year to a record $254 billion, far higher than the continent’s trade with the U.S.

New Delhi, meantime, seeks help from Moscow to defend its nearly 2,200-mile border with China, where Indian and Chinese troops have skirmished in the past. Russia provides half of India’s weapon imports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, as well as a majority of the component parts to repair existing equipment.

Indian officials in December signed a deal to buy Russian S-400 surface-to-air missile systems. The two countries also signed a contract for a joint venture to manufacture more than 600,000 Russian-designed AK-203 assault rifles in India.

Middle lane

Some developing countries view the war in Ukraine as Europe’s problem. Others don’t want to be used as proxies in a fight between great powers. During the Cold War, as many as 120 countries formed a nonaligned movement to navigate the U.S.-Soviet rivalry.

“There is a feeling of anxiety that this situation may become a permanent one, where you would have permanent divisions between, on the one side, the West, the U.S. and its allies, and on the other side Russia and China,” said Rubens Ricupero, a former Brazilian ambassador to the U.S. and Italy.

With a few exceptions, governments in Latin America voted in favor of the U.N. resolution condemning the invasion but refused to join in sanctions.

The nonaligned approach is rooted in the sentiment that it wouldn’t be beneficial to pick sides if the war were to spill over into the battle over global influence being waged by the U.S. and China, said Brian Winter, editor of Americas Quarterly, a nonpartisan journal about Latin America.

“If we’re entering a new era of great power conflict, most Latin American governments would prefer to sit this one out,” Mr. Winter said. “These governments remember that the Cold War had terrible consequences for them, that the region was used as a chess board.”

In Africa, nearly half the governments either abstained or didn’t cast a vote last month to condemn Russia for the invasion of Ukraine. Many countries on the continent are ruled by parties that had been supported by Moscow during national struggles for independence from colonial or white-minority rule. Party leaders in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Angola and Mozambique remember how Soviet weapons, cash and advisers helped win freedom in the 1960s through 1980s

Russia dispatched senior diplomats to lobby for support from defense and foreign ministries in Uganda, South Sudan and Ethiopia. The delegations pledged investment and infrastructure aid in return for backing—or at least not voting to condemn—Russia at the U.N.

Uganda’s longtime leader and a key U.S. security partner Yoweri Museveni said Russia should be viewed as the center of gravity in Eastern Europe. His son and heir apparent, Lt. Gen. Muhoozi Kainerugaba, went further.


Matéria publicada no The Wall Street Journal em 14/04/2022. Clique aqui para ler a publicação original.