ED: This is the first in a series of articles digging into the numbers associated with the war in Ukraine and related sanctions. To view the interactive charts in this article read it on the bne IntelliNews server here.
There have been two votes in the UN to castigate Russia for its attack on Ukraine on February 24, but the voting patterns show that many countries outside the Western nations that have universally condemned the attack are sitting on the fence to some extent, concerned with hurting their commercial and trade relations with Moscow.
The UN General Assembly vote on March 3 to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine went almost unanimously against Russia, with only five countries voting against the motion: Belarus, Syria, North Korea and Eritrea. Notably, China and India, which have close commercial relations with Russia, both chose to abstain rather than vote against the motion, further isolating Russia on the international stage. China is performing a delicate balancing act between backing Russia and protecting its commercial relations with the west.
However, despite the shocking nature of Russia’s decision to invade another country, as bne IntelliNews reported, another 35 countries chose to abstain rather than bring down Russia’s wrath and get added to its “unfriendly” list by voting “for” the motion. These countries included all of Central Asia and many countries in Africa. Notably the Arab countries also voted “for” despite the fact that many have good relations with Russia and in recent years have started investing heavily in the country.
On April 7 there was another vote. The UN General Assembly voted to suspend Russia from the Human Rights Council on April 7. This time a lot more countries voted “against”, 24 in total, and another 58 countries abstained. China voted against the motion but India abstained once more as it has better relations with the G7 than China.
This time most of Central Asia voted against expelling Russia from the UNHRC, with only Mongolia abstaining. Likewise several counties in the Middle East such as Iran voted against the motion, as did a few in Africa, including Algeria, Central Africa Republic, Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe among others. In South America Bolivia voted against the motion.
What these voting patterns show is where the sanction leaks will be. Being on Russia’s “unfriendly list'' could cause some countries serious problems. Russia’s exports of wheat, metal and hydrocarbons gives it some real clout with many countries around the world.
Combining the votes and it is clear there is a much more muted reaction to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine that runs across Asia, the Middle East and into most of Africa, where the only eight countries to fully condemn Russia in both votes were Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Malawi, Ivory Coast, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Mauritania, Libya and Chad out of the 54 countries that make up Africa.
As bne IntelliNews reported, in a survey of sentiment the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which is heavily dependent on Russia agriculture among other things, is decidedly agnostic. These countries are more concerned about a possible food crisis than the confrontation which they mostly see as “Europe’s problem.” At the same time, Russia has become increasingly active in promoting trade and investment in the region as part of its general foreign policy of improving its standing in the Global Southern regions. Egypt and Israel have favoured not fully condemning the attack, keeping the door partially open for future co-operation with Russia on energy, food, military equipment trade and other projects. The same applies for North African countries such as Algeria, Libya, Morocco and Tunisia.
Despite being heavily reliant on Russia for its gas as well as in trade and tourism, Turkey voted to condemn Russia in both votes. The geographically sensitive position of Turkey between East and West, its long ties with both camps and especially with its economic co-operation with Moscow, have pushed Ankara to carefully balance its different interests, but Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has often defied Moscow and keeps the relation off balance on purpose as he seeks to play the West off against Russia in similar way that Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko used to before the mass protest broke out two years ago and made him entirely dependent on Moscow. Belarus was one of the only five states to vote against in both votes.
The Arab states are also in a delicate position. Extremely slow to move and very conservative, the Arab states entered Russia and began investing into the region of Kazan, a Muslim state, after they were actively wooed by the local administration some 15 years ago and showcased at the annual Kazansummit. As the volumes of investment rose into things like a Halal-compliant meat processing plant, the authorities in Moscow became interested and started sending Ministry of Finance and Industry representatives to the summit in Kazan. The breakthrough that kicked off federal level co-operation was when the Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF) toured the region and joint investment started at the federal level.
This relationship blossomed and the volume and size of investments expanded steadily in recent years. When the Ministry of Finance found itself in trouble with a RUB2 trillion hole in the budget it couldn't fill, the Kremlin organised a faux privatisation, selling a 19.5% stake in the state-owned Rosneft oil major for €10.5bn in December 2016. It later turned out the money was actually a loan from Qatar, which never took the stake over.
The sovereign wealth funds of both Qatar and the UAE's Mubadala sovereign wealth fund, which have been the most active in Russia, both announced in early April that they were “suspending” their activity and co-operation with the RDIF, which has since been sanctioned. However, it seems likely that when the storm passes they will probably resume their investments in some form.
“Our world is interconnected,” Qatari Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said in an interview with CNN at the time. “So whenever we see that we can offer our help and support for any efforts, we will not hesitate to make our offers. And this offer is extended to the Russians and to the Ukrainians in order to find a common ground and to help to put an end [to] this humanitarian catastrophe, and we will never give up on our efforts.”
Since the shale revolution in the US made it a net exporter of oil, relations between the Arab world and Washington have cooled, whereas those the former has with Russia have improved to a historic high. Russia has won a reputation as an honest broker in the region that all sides can talk to, especially in the Iran-Iraq dispute, and even Israel maintains good relations with Russia for similar reasons, although it voted “for” in both votes.
Russia has also been actively wooing Africa as a destination for trade and investment partnerships. The Kremlin organised the first Russo-Africa Summit in Sochi in October 2019 that was attended by 43 heads of state – all but eleven of all the African countries – and co-hosted by Russian President Vladimir Putin and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. Egypt is one of Russia’s closest allies in Africa and also the premium investment destination on the continent.
Putin emphasised "state sovereignty" and Russian willingness to offer aid or trade deals "without political or other conditions", said that "an array of Western countries are resorting to pressure, intimidation and blackmail of sovereign African governments", against which Russia was “well suited to help African states push back,” Putin told the delegates.
In their first joint declaration, a new dialogue mechanism – the Russia-Africa Partnership Forum –was created. Top-level meetings between Russia and the African states are supposed to take place within the forum’s framework once every three years, alternately in Russia and in an African state. The foreign ministers of Russia and three African countries – the current, future and previous chairs of the African Union – will meet for annual consultations. The APF is similar to and builds on the political BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) forum that grew out from the marketing term coined by legendary Goldman Sachs head of research Jim O’Neill to bring the leading emerging markets together.
A second Africa summit, planned for the following year, was cancelled due the outbreak of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, but the summit is back on this year and planned for St Petersburg in November. Despite the sanctions, the event is expected to be well attended as the war will probably benefit the development of Africa’s energy business, as bne IntelliNews’ sister publication NewsBase reported recently. Following the first summit, the flow of railway equipment, fertilisers, pipes, high-tech equipment and aluminium are growing and work continues on institutionalising the interaction between Russia and the AU.
Latin America and G20
Russia’s support in Latin America is much weaker, which still lies in the US sphere of influence. The obvious exception is Venezuela, which has been in a major confrontation with the US and also under sanctions. But even Venezuela only abstained in both votes in the UNGA. As a result of the US oil embargo on Russian oil imports a US delegation travelled to Caracas for talks and there are talks on possibly restarting oil imports from Venezuela to the US. Bolivia provided the only “no” vote in Latin America, against the motion to expel Russia from the UNHRC.
Brazil followed a policy that was adopted by many countries that have ties with Russia, voting for the motion to condemn its invasion of Ukraine, but abstaining from the second vote on the UNHRC. Brazil has enjoyed improving relations with Russia as the BRICS organ develops, which had its first meeting as an organisation in 2009.
Brazil partnered with Russia and the other members to establish a BRICS Development Bank, now called the New Development Bank, that will reduce the West’s hold over the emerging markets as it is supposed to mirror the work of institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank that are western-lead.
More broadly, the US has been lobbying the G20 to exclude Russia, but Washington has met with resistance from the members. The next G20 summit is scheduled to take place in Indonesia in November, as that country is currently the chair of the G20, and Putin is planning to go. The world's fourth most populous country, Indonesia voted “for” the motion to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but abstained from the vote on the UNHRC.
"It has been made very clear to Indonesia that Russia’s presence at forthcoming ministerial meetings would be highly problematic for European countries," said a source in the EU told Reuters, adding there was, however, no clear process for excluding a country from the G20.
The G7 was expanded to a new "G8" format including Russia during a period of warmer ties in the early 2000s. But Moscow was indefinitely suspended from that club after its annexation of Crimea in 2014.
When Russia first launched its attack on Ukraine, President Joko Widodo tweeted that the war should be stopped, without mentioning Russia or the context of the conflict, for which he got a lot of flak.
The Indonesian government is, like India, looking at buying discounted oil and weapons from Russia, the twin planks that much of Russia’s foreign policy is built on. Russia has sold Indonesia over $2.5bn of arms over the last 30 years, Tass reports, including advanced fighter jets. The state-owned energy agency Pertamina has not ruled out importing oil products from Russia.
"Politically, there's no problem as long as the company we are dealing with was not sanctioned. We have also discussed the payment arrangement, which may go through India," Pertamina CEO Nicke Widyawati told Parliament last week.
When asked about Russia’s alleged war crimes in the massacre in Kyiv’s suburb of Bucha on April 3, Indonesia's Foreign Affairs Ministry spokesperson said: "It's an accusation and therefore it needs to be verified by an independent investigation. This is the process that we will support."
Indonesia has enjoyed good relations with Russia that go back to the 1950s and Soviet General Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. But it also has good relations with Ukraine that supported it in the 1960s when it was rowing over territory with the Netherlands. In general, according to a recent poll by the Lowy Institute, 40% of Indonesians support Putin, as while they support democracy, they are mistrustful of US hypocrisy following what happened to Iraq and Afghanistan – sentiments echoed by many populations outside the developed markets of the western world.
It is this widespread mistrust of the US agenda in the developing world that makes it unlikely that Russia will be expelled from the G20. Russia earned a great deal of political capital during the coronavirus pandemic by shipping its highly effective Sputnik V vaccines to dozens of countries, round the globe while the developed world horded its own vaccines until it had inoculated its entire populations, in what some have dubbed a “vaccine apartheid.” Russia’s membership in the G20 is seen by many emerging democracies as an important counterweight to the perceived US attempts to dominate global politics.
And that membership is under fire by the West, as all the G7 countries that have spearheaded the sanctions are also members of the G20. However, members like China, India and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would all veto any attempt to expel Russia.
"There have been discussions about whether it’s appropriate for Russia to be part of the G20," a senior G7 source told Reuters. "If Russia remains a member, it will become a less useful organisation."
"It's impossible to remove Russia from G20" unless Moscow makes such a decision on its own, an official of a G20 member country in Asia told Reuters. "There's simply no procedure to deprive Russia of G20 membership."
The upshot is that the US is threatening to boycott G20 meetings, like the upcoming summit in Indonesia, if Russia attends. The G20 finance ministers and central bank governors are due to meet in person and virtually in Washington later in April on the sidelines of International Monetary Fund and World Bank meetings and the US said it would boycott the meeting if Russia tries to attend.
"President Biden's made clear, and I certainly agree with him, that it cannot be business as usual for Russia in any of the financial institutions," Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said on April 6. "He's asked that Russia be removed from the G20 and I've made clear to my colleagues in Indonesia that we will not be participating in a number of meetings if the Russians are there."