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The Russian invasion of Ukraine about four months ago has divided the world community amongst pro-Russia, pro-Ukraine alignments with most nations remaining neutral or tentatively circumspect. How long the nations shall hold their positions, it is too early to say, since events are still fluid and changing facts on the ground could shape nation’s perceptions.

While President V. Putin’s administration has officially termed the Ukraine war a “special military operation” it is viewed by many as an “invasion” on an independent neighboring country - the biggest military campaign launched in post-World War II in Europe.

Nations follow the realpolitik paradigm and seek immediate perceived national interests for survival and well-being. This is due to the operative ‘semi-anarchic world system’ as the Australian scholar Hedley Bull once stated.

On February 2, 2022, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) convened an emergency session, the first in a quarter of a century, to consider the Russian military adventure in Ukraine. At the end of the debate, the states in the General Assembly voted to adopt a resolution condemning Russia’s conduct as an unlawful act of aggression “in violation of Article 2 (4) of the (UN) Charter” and demanded Russia “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders.” Almost 141 countries voted in favour of the resolution, while five voted against and another 35 abstained.

After the event, the US and generally the European Community (EC) have grouped together in condemning the Russian military adventure. Some East Europeans are apprehensive either in condemning Russia or remaining taciturn.

The Arab world, including Syria, Libya, Iraq, after years of civil strife are generally sympathetic to Russian onslaught as they have had prior links and support from the latter; on the contrary, the US has greatly forfeited goodwill in the Arab world through repeated military interventions. Even Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf states, although traditionally pro-West, are waiting and watching and are circumspect about the situation. Iran and Turkey are strongly pro-Russia, though Turkey is the largest contributor to NATO forces.

Most of the Baltic states bordering Russia are NATO members and perceive real threat emanating from Russia. Sweden and Finland, till now non-aligned, are mulling joining NATO.

As for South Asia, Pakistan, India, Nepal, Sri Lanka are posing as neutrals despite their tilt towards the West. Very lately, following bankruptcy in Sri Lanka the then Sri Lankan President before his ouster had urgently pleaded V. Putin for supply of food grains and shipments of oil.

The then PM, Imran Khan, visited Russia on the eve of Russian -Ukrainian war, raising a few eyebrows at some policy circles in Pakistan and the US. The visit was a bid to diversify Pakistan’s foreign relations, though its timing was debated. Since then, the new coalition government of PM Shahbaz Sharif is trying hard to swing back in resetting relations with the US.

Pakistan has taken a position that it previously adopted in the 1990s during the crises in Iraq, Syria, Libya and Yemen. It stood for respecting the sovereignty and territorial integrity of fellow Muslim nation states.

Afghanistan, another South Asian state and SAARC member, came under the Taliban control in August 2021 but has not been recognized by any government due to regressive policies against women and education — though it is trying hard to seek recognition from Russia, China and immediate neighbours. However, its tilt remains towards Russia and China for possible diplomatic and economic assistance. This is contrary to the situation of the Soviet Union invading Afghanistan in Dec 1979, when there was a well-spring of sympathy in the ‘Free World’ for Afghanistan. The sudden exit of US forces last year has drastically lowered US global image after decades of military involvement in a fruitless internal conflict.

China’s stance is noteworthy. Initially, it had expressed before the Chinese Winter Olympics in Beijing in early 2021 that Sino-Russia relations had “no limits.” It has accordingly not condemned the Russian invasion as China-Russia relations are strategically and economically quite robust; China is a ‘developed developing’ nation

and has a voice as a global power. Nor has China condemned Ukraine.

China respects every country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity, and urged both Ukraine and Russia to solve the crisis through negotiations. Also, re-affirmed in late June China’s robust strategic relations with Russia and is still giving it diplomatic cover. Albeit it desires that the war ends soon it is closely monitoring developments on ground. As a trading Asian nation with sizable investments sprawling across the globe China’s interest lies in early end of war, yet it desires a more balanced world by containing the US. At the same time, the Western involvement in Europe gives it an opportunity to pursue geo-political ambitions in Southeast Asia.

On 22-23 June, BRICS (Russia, India, China and South Africa), comprising over 40 per cent of world population, held a meeting in Beijing which was addressed by President XI when he warned “against expanding military alliances” and issued a “wake- up call” to the US for being on the “wrong side of history in Ukraine.’’ The Chinese FM. Wang Yi during his phone talks in mid- June with British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, the European Union’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Josep Borrell as well as Emmanuel Bonne, diplomatic counsellor to French embassy elaborated the Chinese global outlook.

Copyright Business Recorder, 2022

Dr Maqsudul Hasan Nuri

The writer is former Adviser, Centre for Policy Studies, COMSATS, Islamabad, former President of Islamabad Policy Research Institute, and ex-Head Department of International Relations, NUML University, Islamabad

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