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HomeGlobal Perspective & Critical ResearchThe West vs. the Rest: Welcome to the 21st-century Cold War

The West vs. the Rest: Welcome to the 21st-century Cold War

Author: Angela Stent

Affiliation: the Brookings Institution (Former U.S. National Intelligence Officer for Russia and Eurasia)

Organization/Publisher: Foreign Policy 

Date/Place: May 2, 2022/ USA

Type of Literature: Journal Article 

Word Count: 2060



Keywords: Russian Invasion of Ukraine, the West, the Rest, China, India, the 21st-Century Cold War 



The political stances and responses of various countries around the world regarding the Russian invasion of Ukraine reveal the global order type during the twenty-first century. The article sheds light on how non-Western countries have responded to the Russian invasion of Ukraine or what the author calls “the rest”, analyzing the reasons why most of the rest refused to condemn the Russian invasion or did not fully align with the West in imposing sanctions on Moscow, despite the US attempts to make Putin a pariah leader on the “international stage”. The author focuses on the response of China and India, then analyzes, in general, the response of the Middle Eastern, African, and Latin American countries. In the end, she provides a set of recommendations for the Biden administration and predicts some expectations for the global order pattern in the foreseeable future.  


China has been the most supportive major power for Russia since the beginning of the invasion, regardless of whether its leader Xi Jinping knew about the invasion plan before it began. Putin would not have invaded Ukraine if he had not realized that he would have China’s support no matter what he did. China and Russia have committed in recent years to back each other against Western hegemony, and Xi does not want to see Putin defeated. Beijing’s support for Moscow has appeared in many behaviors, most notably its abstention in voting at the United Nations to condemn Russia, its vote against a UN resolution to suspend Russia’s membership in the Human Rights Council, blaming the United States and NATO for the war, and repeating Russian justifications about “denazifying” and demilitarizing Ukraine. Nevertheless, there is some equivocation in the Chinese position, as it has called for an end to hostilities and reiterated its belief in the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries, including Ukraine. The author attributes this to Ukraine’s importance to China, as it is one of its most important trading partners and part of the Belt and Road project. Xi chose to ally with Putin because they share deep grievances against a US-dominated world order that they believe ignores their interests, and they are both determined to create a post-Western world order despite their differences over its pattern. Both countries are allergic to Western criticisms of their domestic systems and their human rights records, so they need to unite in efforts “to make the world safe for autocracy”. However, the author argues that China’s stake in its relationship with Europe and the United States is much greater than it is with Russia.


India’s response comes close to that of China despite being the world’s largest democracy and a prominent partner of the United States in the QUAD. It abstained from voting on the three UN resolutions condemning Russia and refused to impose sanctions. The reasons behind this position are its deep military-defense relations with Russia, where India buys two-thirds of its weapons from Russia and is Moscow’s top arms customer. Also, it is due to India’s strategic need for Russia in balancing China. 


The author then discusses the response of the Middle Eastern countries, as 22 Arab countries in the Arab League refused to vote to condemn Russia during the second UN vote and its aftermath, and Washington’s staunch allies refused to participate in imposing sanctions on Russia, such as Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt and Israel. The author attributes this generally to the successful return of Putin’s foreign policy during the last decade to the Middle East and re-establishing ties with countries from which post-Soviet Russia withdrew, and establishing new ones with countries that had no previous ties with the Soviet Union. As for the Israeli position, which may seem strange, the author attributes it to Israel’s fear of antagonizing Russia, as this may endanger it on the northern border with Syria, whether from the Iranian or Russian forces present there. Therefore, Israel contented itself with sending medical aid to Ukraine instead of weapons. 


African countries share the “rest” of the same stance, even South Africa, a rising democratic country, has not criticized Russia. The growing Russian-African relations during the past few years are the reason behind these stances. Also, most African countries see Russia as the heir of the Soviet Union, which supported them during their liberation struggle against Western colonialism. 


In the United States’ own backyard, Russia has its cheerleaders, as Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua all supported Russia, as expected, but other countries also refrained from condemning the Russian invasion, as Brazil declared a stance of “impartiality,” and its president declared “solidarity with Russia” on a visit to Moscow before the invasion. Even Mexico refused to form a common front for North American countries to condemn the invasion. The author argues that the left anti-Americanism tradition of the 1970s may explain a large part of Russia’s embrace in the US backyard and offer Moscow new opportunities to sow discord in the West.


Finally, the author presents some recommendations and future expectations and argues after all that the large number of “the rest” does not surpass the influence of the West in terms of its development, economic strength, and geopolitical weight. Nevertheless, the current division revealed by the Ukrainian war between the West and the rest will shape the emerging world order (regardless of its form) after the end of the war. China and India will be the key countries to ensure that Putin (or his successor) will not become a pariah leader on the international stage. That is why the United States must strengthen its military presence in Europe and establish a permanent station for forces in one or more countries on NATO’s eastern flank. The author calls for the return of NATO to strengthen the containment policy against Russia and argues that the twenty-first century version of the Cold War will witness a resurgence of the Non-Aligned Movement in a new incarnation that includes the rest of the countries that will not take sides, as happened in the original Cold War. “This time, the Rest will maintain their ties to Russia even as Washington and its allies treat Putin as a pariah.”


By: Djallel Khechib, CIGA  Senior Research Associate



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