From the moment Russian forces began their widespread missile barrage against Ukrainian targets in February, the United States and Europe have sought to rally the world on Ukraine's behalf. The narrative of the collective West has been simple, and it appeals to our moral sensibilities about right and wrong — Vladimir Putin, the thin-skinned, bloodthirsty, nuclear-armed dictator is hellbent on a war of conquest. And the international community needs to step up and ensure he doesn't succeed.
U.S. and European heads of state took that argument to New York last week, when world leaders descended upon United Nations headquarters for the organization's annual debate. In speech after speech, they lambasted Putin as the biggest threat to world peace today. In his own forceful remarks, President Joe Biden drew a line in the sand and let it be known that Russia, and Russia alone, is to blame for sparking the deadliest conflict in Europe in nearly 80 years.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz blasted Putin's war of aggression as "imperialism, plain and simple." French President Emmanuel Macron delivered some of the strongest comments of the session, going so far as to fault other countries that haven't taken a clear stance against Putin.
In Macron's words, "Those who are silent today further the cause of a new imperialism."
While other speakers shied away from that kind of biting language, Macron's point is well taken ... in the West. There's a sense of confusion, bewilderment, if not outrage, that so many countries have chosen to keep their condemnation of Putin's actions quiet — if they registered condemnations at all.
There's also a deep frustration in Western capitals that other countries — India and China, to name the two most consequential — continue to have business-as-usual relationships with the Kremlin despite the devastation and horror inflicted upon the Ukrainian people over the last eight months. (New Delhi's imports of Russian crude have risen sixfold this year.)
Yet as much as Washington, London, Brussels and Paris may find it to be morally objectionable, the fact remains that much of the world wants nothing to do with this conflict. This was made even more obvious during the U.N. festivities last week, when states outside the West treaded a fairly cautious line on all things Russia and Ukraine.
To the extent nations in the so-called Global South talked about the war at all, the remarks were focused on the necessity to end it as soon as possible through a negotiated settlement all of the parties could live with.
Mexico, historically careful to preserve its neutrality on matters of war and peace, formally presented a proposal that would task a U.N.-led committee to serve as a mediator between Russia and Ukraine with the goal of building confidence toward a peace deal. Mexico's plan received an early endorsement from Colombian President Gustavo Petro, who joined the initiative.
While New Delhi is not an official signatory to Mexico's peace proposal, India would likely support any idea that had a chance at pushing the combatants toward a cease-fire. Even as Indian refineries have taken advantage of Russia's discounted oil, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has repeatedly emphasized the necessity of bringing the war to a close — including during a bilateral meeting with Putin this month.
African leaders also would like a negotiated solution to the conflict. But by and large, they also want to be free to make their own choices and not to be dictated to. During a trip this month to Washington, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa stated unequivocally that nobody had the right to interfere in Africa's foreign relations: "We should not be told by anyone who we can associate with."
The sentiment is felt throughout the African continent. Senegalese President and African Union Chairman Macky Sall, using more diplomatic language, expressed his belief to the U.N. General Assembly that African governments shouldn't be forced to pick sides, a contention that will come as a shock to others like Macron.
"I have come to say that Africa has suffered enough of the burden of history, that it does not want to be the place of a new Cold War but rather a pole of stability and opportunity open to all of its partners," Sall said.
In Southeast Asia, neutrality remains the name of the game. With the exception of Singapore, no nation in the region is sanctioning the Russian economy. Diplomatically, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, or ASEAN, has stayed true to its roots as a multilateral grouping intent on staying out of the affairs of other states. As evidence, consider the 29-page joint statement ASEAN's foreign ministers released last month, in which Ukraine was mentioned twice.
Middle Eastern states aren't all that concerned about Putin's war of aggression and have no issues keeping diplomatic, economic and military relationships with Moscow alive. The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has accelerated imports of cheap Russian fuel for domestic consumption in order to free up more of its own oil for export. Egypt, a country that receives more than $1 billion in military aid every year (a total of more than $50 billion since 1978), is not only participating in joint energy ventures with Russia but also is continuing to insist on buying Russian fighter jets despite the threat of U.S. sanctions.
The conclusion is clear. The U.S. and its European allies want Russia defeated in Ukraine, however long it takes. A significant portion of the world, however, is far more interested in defending their own interests and maximizing their options — even if it makes the West cringe.
Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist for the Chicago Tribune.