A month after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia’s foreign minister Sergei Lavrov declared that the conflict was “not about Ukraine, but the world order”. And so it has proved, says Peter Frankopan in The Spectator. Because for all the headlines about Vladimir Putin’s waning power, the West has notably “failed to win over” many of the countries that initially refused to pick sides. In Africa, 25 out of 54 states either abstained or didn’t vote on a UN motion last March condemning the invasion. A year ago, South Africa’s foreign minister Naledi Pandor urged Russia to withdraw its troops from Ukraine; when recently asked to repeat this message, she said doing so would be “simplistic and infantile”. It’s the same in Asia – India in particular – and in Central and South America, “where waves of anti-western and anti-capitalist sentiment continue to swell”.
The reason for all this is that Putin is the “master” of whipping up anti-Western feeling. He was at it in a speech last week, referencing the West’s interventions in Yugoslavia, Iraq, Libya and Syria, and contrasting the $150bn given to Ukraine to the $60bn provided to the world’s poorest countries. He claims opposition to the war is rooted in anti-Russian racism, neatly tapping into Western guilt about its colonial past, and stirs up the culture wars by emphasising his social conservatism. Crucially, he pitches Russia as the “leading voice” for what his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov calls “the international majority”. Over centuries of “colonialism, diktat and hegemony”, Putin declared last week, the West “got used to being allowed everything, to spitting on the whole world”. His message is that Moscow is a “bastion of stability in a world gone mad”. We in the West might see that as absurd, given his efforts to “destabilise the world and make it even madder”. But plenty of others are buying it.