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What relations Ukraine has with the Global South and how to improve them

Most Western countries support Ukraine in the full-scale war with Russia in word and deed by condemning the terrorist country and supplying Ukraine with weapons, equipment, humanitarian aid, and more.

Meanwhile, there are countries in the Global South that maintain a neutral stance, with some of them, especially those in South America and Asia, being heavily influenced by Russian propaganda.

The Page talked with Volodymyr Dubovyk, director of the Center for International Studies, to understand the reasons and implications of this tendency, as well as to identify the countries in the Global South with which Ukraine should establish relations.

Interview with Volodymyr Dubovyk on how Ukraine should establish relations with Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa. Photo: Ukrinform

Interview with Volodymyr Dubovyk on how Ukraine should establish relations with Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa. Photo: Ukrinform

What relationships does Ukraine currently have with Southeast Asia, South America, and Africa?

We have better relations with some countries that are more important to us and worse relations with those that are less important. Currently, our priorities are Europe and North America because we depend on them the most. However, from the perspective of our survival, security, and economy, the regions you’ve named are also relevant.

East Asia: what countries are important for Ukraine?

Thus, one major actor in East Asia is China. It’s important that they no longer support Russia so actively: they don’t provide Russia on a large scale with some things that could help it sustain its war effort.

Of course, China supports Russia in its propaganda and rhetoric by saying that it won’t give up its alliance with Russia and that NATO and the West are to blame for the war. However, China at least doesn’t send its troops and weapons, and even if they violate the sanctions, they do it very carefully. This Chinese stance is more or less acceptable to us, although we complain that China could support Ukraine more actively.

There are also other actors in the Asian region, among whom I would single out, for example, Japan and South Korea. Unlike China, they actively support us, both diplomatically and with humanitarian aid, but also possibly with weapons. It has been reported lately that South Korea will supply us with some military aid, but not directly. Poland could act as an intermediary, given its recent rapprochement with South Korea.

In general, countries in this region are significant to us and can in the future become our influential allies in trade, humanitarian aid, and defense. In the coming years, they might also become part of security guarantees for Ukraine in a certain format.

South America: with whom should Ukraine establish relations?

As for South America, this region is far from us, and different countries there have absolutely different situations that don’t fit into a common description. There are countries that have simply distanced themselves and say: we don’t know and don’t want to know anything about the war or who’s right and who’s wrong, who’s the aggressor and who’s the victim — it’s not our problem, not our priority. We don’t want to have anything to do with it. Sadly, this attitude toward Russia’s war with Ukraine is quite widespread.

However, we also have some supporters there, namely Columbia, which is a major actor in that region, and Chile, which repeatedly spoke in support of Ukraine. Still, large countries like Argentina and Brazil are much more neutral.

Brazil’s stance is especially important since it’s a regional superpower and one of the world’s largest countries and developing economies. They have had an election recently, which was unfortunately not very beneficial for us. On one side, there was Mr. Bolsonaro, the former president, who is rather friendly to Putin as well as to Trump, who is now the leader of the faction that opposes support for Ukraine in America. On the other side, there is Mr. Lula, a left-wing candidate who won the election and hence becomes the new president.

However, the left also isn’t very friendly to us: they say that support from the West is imperialism, that supplying weapons is wrong, and that the parties should be brought to a negotiation table. Let’s see if Mr. Lula shares this opinion. Maybe his one will be more nuanced.

The Global South is important for Ukraine. Photo: school.edturtle.co.uk

The Global South is important for Ukraine. Photo: school.edturtle.co.uk

Africa: why it’s important for Ukraine to be in dialogue with it

Africa is another complicated case. The most important issue there is global hunger and the supply of food. The day Russia announced its withdrawal from the grain deal, I said that it must be maintained even without Russia’s participation. I argued that we had to try and take a risk, and maybe it would go somewhere — interestingly, this was exactly what happened. Ukraine, Turkey, and the UN resumed the grain deal, so Russia probably thought it was unable and unwilling to torpedo it, and hence it returned. For Africa, it was very important.

I recently delivered a long speech to an audience in Uganda. Our conflict, this war, is interesting to them primarily because of the food supply, which is also significant for the economy of Ukraine, especially of its southern region and my home city of Odesa.

Everything there depends on transit trade, especially wheat and other grains, therefore we naturally want to show them that, despite being victims, we are still trying to help the rest of the world and doing everything we can in these extremely harsh conditions to ensure they obtain their foods.

That is why it is critical that we reach out to Africa, as do our American friends. Mr. Antony Blinken visited Africa repeatedly and explained to the Africans who was to blame and who was not, saying that it was not Ukraine’s fault that foods failed to reach the African market. We experts also do whatever depends on us. Mr. Dmytro Kuleba, if I’m not mistaken, also went there not long ago (in October — The Page).

Ukrainian diplomacy pays attention to this area. Maybe it’s not too influential, this so-called Global South, but at the same time, many things depend on its position, in particular, in the UN votes. It’s there that we see Russia being almost completely isolated. This is certainly not the main reason behind our victories since the UN, unfortunately, doesn’t have much weight. However, anytime that the war is being discussed on the international stage and Russia turns out to be almost completely isolated, it’s quite good for us.

So, do we have to send diplomats to these three regions to establish relations with them?

Diplomats and food. We have to explain our position and convey unbiased information on what this war is about, who is to blame and who is defending, who’s the victim and who’s the aggressor. We need to articulate that it is an example of imperialism on the part of Russia, which acts as a new empire, because for the Global South and especially for Africa, it is a very sensitive issue.

Historical memory: why the Global South doesn’t trust the West

When they see that former empires — the British and the French — support Ukraine, they probably think they should be against it. Furthermore, Putin always says he’s challenging traditional imperialistic Western powers.

However, we need to explain to them that, on the contrary, Russia is an empire today trying to take over independent Ukraine. As a result, if you are anti-imperial — and this attitude prevails there — you should especially support Ukraine in its fight for freedom and apprehension, just as your nations and countries did when they broke free from the rule of the British, French, Belgian, or other empires.

Do you mean that the reason behind their position is not current economic needs but historical memory?

Yes, historical memory is very important, as are current economic interests. When Russia says that sanctions were imposed on it for no reason and that’s why African countries don’t receive enough food, we need to explain that there is a reason for sanctioning Russia and that they receive less food not because of the sanctions but because Russia mounted a blockade of Ukraine’s ports.

That is, one way or another, the global food crisis was caused by Russia’s aggressive actions and not Ukraine’s reaction: not by Ukraine fighting and not by Western countries supporting us. This is what we need to explain all the time in Africa.

Will we succeed in persuading these three regions to get involved in supporting Ukraine in the coming years?

We need to keep working with them. And now, in this emergency situation, we also need to ask our Western allies to explain our position. They do it, and I think they do it effectively.

Russian propaganda in the South: how the U.S. counters it

American diplomatic missions around the world hold special events to explain to local journalists and local communities the nature of this war: what Russia tries to achieve, why Ukraine resists, and why our cause is just.

It is very important to keep doing it further, for the future. Our relations with these regions will also depend on how long this war lasts, what form it takes, and how soon it ends. More accurate predictions will be possible only when this war ends.

But at this stage, does the rapprochement of individual countries in these three regions with Russia threaten us?

No, we shouldn’t be worried about it too much.

There is certainly traditional Russian diplomacy there: they have extensively staffed embassies there. So they will further try to promote their narratives and their explanation of what they are doing: they are only defending, NATO and the West are to blame, and so on. Meanwhile, we have to confront them with our counternarrative.

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