US and Western powers’ continued engagement in and support for international war crimes makes the Global South hesitate to rush to judgment in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

by Branko Marcetic, Current Affairs

Something that’s puzzled observers in the West since Russian President Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is why other parts of the world don’t seem to view the war with the same urgency. Western countries have rightly been outraged by Moscow’s violation of international law, appalled by its violation of a smaller neighbor’s sovereignty, and disgusted by the destruction and carnage its military has carried out.

So why is it that much of the world, even as it has condemned the war and called for its end, hasn’t joined Western sanctions on Russia, or has even taken what seems like a neutral position on the war—including nations run by left-wing leaders and who have withstood their own episodes of post-colonial meddling?

Part of the explanation lies in realpolitik. The other part has to do with how the conflict looks to those outside the West.

American and Ukrainian flags national ukraine two outside

In the United States, for instance, where the invasion has gotten more media coverage than almost any war of the past 30 years, it’s not surprising many have come to view it as a singular, unprecedented crime whose outcome will make or break the fragile liberal global order that has existed since World War Two. But to citizens of the Global South, who for years have watched or directly experienced the same crimes and outrages at the hands of Western governments or forces backed by them, the conflict seems like yet another disastrous great power conflict that doesn’t involve them, yet they are forced to endure.

In the West, calling attention to this history is often cast as a form of “whataboutism” by critics who claim that the discussion is simply meant to excuse Moscow’s wrongdoing—to the point that it has been declared taboo. But this history matters greatly to the world’s citizenry, who might join the Western push to isolate Russia at considerable cost but are less likely to stick their necks out on principle if that principle seems selective and self-serving for the West.

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