March 13, 2023
On February 23, 2023, the UN General Assembly through its Resolution A/ES-11/L.7, once again called for ending the war in Ukraine and demanded Russia’s immediate withdrawal from the country in line with the UN Charter. The voting was very similar to last year’s Resolution ES‑11/4. And the message of the majority was the same: “End the war.”
On March 9, in an International Crisis Group Commentary titled “The Global South and the Ukraine War at the UN”, the Group’s UN Director Richard Gowan said: “While 141 of the Assembly’s 193 members voted in favour of the text – which was timed to mark the first anniversary of Moscow’s all-out assault – their statements before and after the vote pointed to significant differences over how to achieve the outcome it envisions. Those who abstained on or voted against the resolution had, not surprisingly, even more divergent views.” [i]
He attributed this divergence largely to a divide between Western delegations and those from other member states. Kyiv’s Western allies were mostly united in condemning Moscow, promising to support Ukraine for as long as necessary and calling for Russia to be held accountable for its crimes. They had no new diplomatic initiative to reveal. By contrast, speakers representing non-Western member states were typically more inclined to call for an early, negotiated end to the war.
As a matter of fact, as Mr. Gowan noted, many African, Asian, and Latin American leaders who addressed the General Assembly’s high-level session in September 2022 had avoided mentioning the war at all. Most of those who did only referred to the need for a ceasefire or negotiations. In other words, non-Western states displayed a closer interest in peacemaking options.
During February’s General Assembly and Security Council debates on Ukraine, only twelve members of the 54-strong African group, and fourteen of the 55 Asian countries, offered statements about Ukraine in either the General Assembly or the Security Council. And there was no single Global South view on how to negotiate peace in Ukraine, and no agreement about the substance of a peace agreement.
Only three months after the Russian onslaught, on May 22, 2022, Angela Stent, in a Foreign Policy article titled, “The West vs. the Rest, Welcome to the 21st-century Cold War” said:
“Russian President Vladimir Putin made four major miscalculations before he launched his invasion of Ukraine. He overestimated Russian military competence and effectiveness and underestimated the Ukrainians’ will to resist and determination to fight back. He was also wrong in his assumption that a distracted West would be unable to unite politically in the face of the Russian attack and that the Europeans and the United States’ Asian allies would never support far-reaching financial, trade, and energy sanctions against Russia.
“But he did get one thing right: He correctly estimated that what I call “the Rest”—the non-Western world—would not condemn Russia or impose sanctions…” [ii]
Thus, since the invasion of Ukraine, the US State Department has probably been experiencing its busiest year ever with its senior diplomats crisscrossing the world in a campaign not only to isolate Russia but also to contain China.
On February 28, Secretary of State Mr. Blinken and the Ministers of Foreign Affairs of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan met in the Kazakh capital Astana on the occasion of the C5+1 Ministerial.
More than a week later, on March 9, the “Joint Statement on the C5+1 Ministerial in Astana” was issued. I may be wrong, but it seems that the meeting was held but negotiations on the wording of the Statement took time. [iii]
According to the Statement, Secretary Blinken emphasized the United States’ solidarity with the peoples and governments of Central Asia, and the Governments acknowledged that “a peaceful and prosperous Central Asia requires a sustained commitment to the independence, sovereignty, and territorial integrity of all countries through upholding the UN Charter and its principles.” That was a message to Moscow, a word against neo-imperialistic schemes.
Under “Economic Cooperation” the Statement says that the participants emphasized that Central Asia’s economic security remains a C5+1 strategic priority; discussed how to mitigate the negative consequences of recent international developments, especially in the areas of energy and food prices, debt management, and employment rates.
Under “Security Cooperation”, the Statement says that the participants recognized the importance of strengthened C5+1 diplomatic engagement in support of Central Asia’s security; discussed how to ensure a safe and secure future for the populations of Central Asia in the context of evolving global crises; reiterated their commitment to counterterrorism cooperation; and re-emphasized the importance of maintaining peace and security, as well as resolving disputes through diplomatic means. (Emphasis added)
None of these countries have supported Russia’s invasion but the Statement makes no reference to Ukraine.
The 7,644-kilometer Kazakhstan–Russia border is the longest continuous international border in the world and the second longest by total length, after the Canada–United States border. Russia, Kazakhstan, and Turkmenistan are among the riparian states of the Caspian Sea. Except for Kazakhstan, none of the other four Central Asian countries share land borders with Russia. A look at the map of Central Asia gives one the impression that Kazakhstan is a huge umbrella over the other four Asian members of the C5+1.
Kazakhstan also shares a 1782-kilometer-long border with China. Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan are China’s neighbors as well.
These five countries, like Ukraine, became independent following the collapse of the Soviet Union. Their relations with Russia also have a long past.
The map speaks for itself. These five countries do not belong to the Global South but are also worried about the multiple consequences of the war in Ukraine and the US policy to contain Russia and China. For them, major power confrontation is a security problem.
As I wrote in a recent post, the West has shown unity against Russia, but whether it would display the same solidarity in a standoff or confrontation with China, declared a “strategic competitor” by NATO, begs the question. In such a case, I added, the Global South is more than likely to sit on the fence and once again call for peace, but probably would identify more with Beijing than the West. Because China does not have a colonial past and has not engaged in regime change projects.
Perhaps, the phrase “the West versus the Rest” is a deliberate overstatement to underline a certain message, since “the Rest” does not approve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but wants to see this increasingly cruel war end sooner than later.
The big diplomatic surprise of the past week was the publishing on Friday of the “Joint Trilateral Statement” by Saudi Arabia, Iran, and China announcing that “in response to the noble initiative of His Excellency President Xi Jinping” …. an agreement has been reached between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Islamic Republic of Iran, that includes an agreement to resume diplomatic relations between them and re-open their embassies and missions within a period not exceeding two months, and the agreement includes their affirmation of the respect for the sovereignty of states and the non-interference in internal affairs of states.” [iv]
The announcement coming on the day Xi Jinping was elected President of the People’s Republic of China was probably no coincidence.
Moreover, China has been considering, for some time, becoming an observer at the Astana Format dialogue initiated in 2017 by Russia, Turkey, and Iran to coordinate policies in Syria.
A New York Times article titled “Chinese-Brokered Deal Upends Mideast Diplomacy and Challenges U.S.” started with the following: “Finally, there is a peace deal of sorts in the Middle East.”
Indeed, China has stepped on the Middle East stage with a peacemaking initiative to advance its claim to global leadership.[v]