The Global South and the War in Ukraine


War keeps raging in Ukraine. Russia’s invasion is outrageous. We must strongly condemn Russian forces’ atrocities. We must not condone Russia’s annexation of Ukrainian territories. However, the world is far from being united against Russia. A significant proportion of the Global South is sitting on the fence.

Soon after the invasion began, on March 2, 2022, the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution to denounce Russia. Surprisingly, 27% of the UN member countries did not support the resolution (they voted against it, abstained, or were absent). The corresponding figure for Africa was 48%. In other words, Africa, a significant segment of the Global South, was split in half. In the subsequent resolutions on October 12, 2022, and February 23, 2023, the corresponding figures for the world were 26% and 27%, respectively. The corresponding figure for Africa was 44% in both resolutions. Regrettably, we have not seen a significant increase in the voice of condemnation, but why?

Energy dependence on Russia partly explains the fact, but this alone cannot be a sufficient reason. Here let us recall history. Several African countries received Soviet assistance in their struggle against oppression. For example, the Soviet Union and Cuba steadfastly helped former Portuguese colonies in Southern Africa in their fight to gain independence. Namibia’s SWAPO and Mozambique’s FRELIMO are cases in point. The same is true of South Africa. The African National Congress (ANC) received unwavering support from the Soviet Union during its long struggle against Apartheid. Age-old ties remain unchanged among some African leaders. They still feel close to their friend in need.

The second factor is even more significant. The Global South suspects the West of employing a double standard. Witnessing the West’s warm welcome to Ukrainian refugees, the Global South questions if the West has displayed as much sympathy to asylum seekers from elsewhere, say, those from Syria, Libya, Yemen, or South Sudan. In the UK, for example, the government plans to deport ‘illegal’ migrants to Rwanda. A sports commentator who criticized the bill intended to keep out asylum seekers was about to be suspended from his job.

Such a situation provides a hotbed for Russian propaganda. The country does not fail to contrast the West’s hearty welcome to Ukrainian refugees with the West’s cold treatment of migrants from elsewhere. Making no mention of its maritime obstruction in the Black Sea, Russia blames the Western sanctions for the sharp rise in food prices. Remember that other authoritarian states are joining Russia in the chorus of blaming the US and NATO for the war.

According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy, government support for Ukraine, till February 24, 2023, amounts to 156.6 billion euros (about $172.2 billion at the current exchange rate). On the other hand, the total ODA provided in 2021 was $178.9 billion (OECD/DAC). In other words, Support for Ukraine is equivalent to the total ODA. Had it not been for Russia’s invasion, ODA could have almost doubled.

Today’s world is witnessing a rivalry between democracies and authoritarian states. The West should not take for granted that the Global South will come to its side in time. The West should not assume that without their conscious efforts, the universal values it upholds dearly will win the day. The authoritarian states are keener to win the hearts and minds of the Global South. If the West does not become more sensitive to the needs and feelings of the Global South, it may well lose those countries to its authoritarian rivals.

As for Japan, it can shoulder its fair share. First, the country should increase its development assistance. Japan used to be the largest donor in the 1990s, but it is now trailing behind the US and Germany. Japan should also become more open to asylum seekers. By international standards, the country’s immigration policy remains too tight. Japan accepted more than 2,300 Ukrainian refugees last year. Japan should extend similarly relaxed standards to asylum seekers from elsewhere.

MATSUNAGA Daisuke is a professor at Osaka Gakuin University and the former Japanese ambassador to Ethiopia.

Note: This essay originally appeared on the website of the English Speaking Union of Japan.