Yusaf H. Akbar is Associate Professor of International Strategy and Maciej Kisilowski is Associate Professor of Law and Strategy, both at Central European University.
Vienna – The UN General Assembly earlier this week made a decision Demand Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine. Aside from Russia and its closest allies, virtually all of the 52 countries that did not endorse the resolution hail from the Global South.
Much has been said about the commercial and military considerations surrounding the lukewarm support of Ukraine from India and Africa to South America. But our underlying understanding of the war in Ukraine – “the biggest war in Europe since World War II” – and the urgency of the political response to it also have deeply racist underpinnings.
Take, for example, CBS News’ Charlie d’Agata, which appeared last week contrasted “civilized” Ukrainian refugees with those who hail from “with all due respect, like Iraq and Afghanistan.” After an outcry after similar statements emerged from other white correspondents, d’Agata apologized. “I spoke in a way that I regret,” he wrote. Oh, it’s not really about that the way d’Agata spoke.
The response from European countries seems to convey a similar understanding: in 2015, a million refugees from the war-torn Middle East were harassed in countries like Hungary, Denmark and the UK, a number deemed “unsustainable”. Today, in just a week, Europe opened the door to a similar number of Ukrainian refugees. Denmark was even keen to do so announce it would not apply its controversial “jewellery law” — which allows the government to confiscate valuables from migrants to pay for their stay — to Ukrainian refugees.
Every war is an affront to humanity, no matter where it unfolds. But it is nonsensical to argue like the historian Yuval Noah Harari has that Russian aggression represents a tectonic shift from a supposedly peaceful world in which “being invaded and conquered by one’s neighbors has become almost unimaginable”.
First of all, unfortunately, the scale of the Ukrainian tragedy does not make it unique among recent conflicts. We are obviously very early in a war and occupation that can become amazingly bloody, and the civilian casualty toll has probably reached thousands – a shocking number. But just as shocking are the more than 377,000 Yemenis, according to the information UN Development Programdied as a result of a war bearing striking similarities to that in Ukraine – a proxy war over the regional balance of power.
Consider also the United States war in Iraq. It resulted in 400,000 to 700,000 “excess deaths,” according to sources. studies. Of course, toppling Saddam Hussein’s brutal regime is in no way morally comparable to attacking the government of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, who won a landslide victory in free and fair elections. But both tragedies were heavily calculated wars of choice, waged in violation of the UN Charter and undertaken by a nuclear power to install a friendly government.
Arguments presenting the Russian invasion as unprecedented because of the uniquely developed “pro-Western” nature that distinguishes Ukraine from some “Third World countries” are also flawed. Certainly, since the ouster of their last authoritarian strongman in 2014, Ukrainians have made tremendous strides in building a less corrupt and more democratic nation. But even before the war, Ukraine was a developing, middle-income economy. Purchasing power adjusted GDP per capita in 2020 was lower than that of Botswana or South Africa.
Ukraine’s democracy was also more fragile than that of many African or South American nations. Since the 2014 revolution, the country has seen only one peaceful transfer of power. And worryingly, his former president, Petro Poroshenko, who lost his re-election bid to Zelenskyy, faces criminal charges even if he did was allowed to remain free while the case is being investigated.
Finally, due to Ukraine’s geographic location, the analysis of this war does not entirely stand up to scrutiny. In Europe, too, we have recently witnessed major, bloody wars that killed thousands: in 1999, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s rise to the presidency was paved by a brutal invasion of Chechnya involving some 80,000 Russian soldiers and more than 50,000 cost people their lives. And let’s also remember the three-year Serbian siege of Srebrenica, which killed more than 9,000 Bosniaks. Neither of these led to talk of a fundamental reorientation of European security.
All in all, it’s hard not to see the impassioned tone of the current narrative and the boldness of the West’s response as a sign of special – albeit belated – empathy that Europeans and North Americans have for people who look and feel like (most of) us live near us.
But aggressive behavior weakens global rules, regardless of the color, creed, or geographic location of its victims. Russia tested the liberal international order with the Chechen war, followed by the 2008 invasion of Georgia and the bloody intervention in Syria – all staged in theaters “on the fringes” of a white European perspective. Just as the Iraq war and the torture campaign initiated by the USA at the same time worsened the global regulatory framework.
All of this combined paved the way for the current tragedy.
Our solution is not to care less about Ukraine – we should pay more attention to security threats and wars in other parts of the world. In fact, one of the strongest rebukes from Russian imperialism during last week’s UN Security Council session came from Dr. Martin Kimani, Kenya’s Permanent Representative to the UN compared the plight of Ukrainians with the struggles of other post-colonial nations.
And only if we broaden our focus to include the peace and security of all nations can we count on broad support and cooperation in times of crisis.
https://www.politico.eu/article/what-the-crisis-in-ukraine-tells-us-about-ourselves-race-war/?utm_source=RSS_Feed&utm_medium=RSS&utm_campaign=RSS_Syndication What the crisis in Ukraine tells us about us – POLITICO