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Behind Russia… allies and ambiguous countries


Since February 24, the date of the beginning of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the media coverage of the positions of the European Union and the United States have given the impression of unanimous condemnation from the world towards the Kremlin. In reality, the latter can count on the support of several countries and on the non-condemnation of others. Explanations.

Syria, the unwavering ally

Apart from Belarus, Vladimir Putin’s other unwavering supporter is unquestionably Syria. And for good reason: Bashar al-Assad owes him very largely his maintenance. The survival of the regime – in the throes of a civil war since 2011 – essentially depended on the Russian intervention, launched on September 30, 2015, to fight against Daesh. In fact, more than 63,000 Russians were sent to the country, and participated in the elimination of rebel groups against the regime. At present, the troops are still present on Syrian territory. This intervention enabled Vladimir Putin to become master of the game in this matter and to place himself as the guarantor of stability in the Middle East.

As a result, Syria’s support seems unconditional, with the Syrian president even going so far as to call the Russian offensive in Ukraine “ correction of history “. ” Facing NATO enlargement is a right for Russia added Bashar al-Assad, who sees the transatlantic organization as a “ global threat”. If we go back further in time, the USSR had already forged close ties with Bashar al-Assad’s father, Hafez el-Assad, after he took power in November 1970. In the midst of the Cold War, Syria received numerous Soviet weapons, which helped make its army one of the best equipped in the region. A foolproof alliance, symbolized by the signing in 1980 of a 20-year friendship and cooperation treaty signed in Moscow by al-Assad senior and Brezhnev.

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Venezuela, against American imperialism

In Latin America, several states have shown their support for Russia, by tradition non-aligned and anti-American imperialism. Even though Venezuela abstained in a vote at the Human Rights Council in favor of an international investigation into Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, that country “ is with Putin, he is with Russia “, because he “ is with the brave and just causes in the world “, specified Nicolás Maduro. During a telephone call Tuesday March 1 to Vladimir Putin, the Venezuelan president took the opportunity to recall that his predecessor Hugo Chavez had supported the Kremlin during the Georgian crisis in 2008. And in September 2009, Venezuela had been one of the few countries to recognize the independence of Abkhazia and South Ossetia. To which Dimitri Medvedev replied: Thank you Hugo, you have made a series of serious and important statements. Also under the Chavez presidency, several arms and energy cooperation contracts were signed between the two countries, strengthening their commercial ties.

Weakened in 2018 after his controversial re-election, subject to attempts to unbolt the Americans, Nicolás Maduro knows he can count on Vladimir Putin. Moreover, he did not hesitate to tax the support of Juan Guaido (about fifty countries) with ” crazy in 2019.

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Cuba, the safe friend

Another support from the start: Cuba, whose close cooperation has not weakened since Soviet times. In an official press release, the government estimates that “ the determination of the United States to impose the gradual expansion of NATO towards the borders of the Russian Federation constitutes a threat to the national security of that country as well as to regional and international peace “. The Cuban regime was logically very critical of the deployment, at the beginning of February, of 3,000 American soldiers in Ukraine. On February 19, during a visit to Havana by Russian Deputy Prime Minister Yuri Borissov, Cuban Deputy Prime Minister Ricardo Cabrisas Ruiz renewed the solidarity of the people [cubain] in the face of the United States’ constant campaigns of disinformation and propaganda warfare against Russia. On his Twitter account, the Minister of Foreign Relations, Bruno Rodríguez Parrilla, meanwhile split an incendiary tweet: “ We strongly reject the propaganda and media hysteria unleashed by the United States government against Russia and we strongly oppose the expansion of NATO to the borders of this brotherly country. »

Since the fall of the USSR, the countries have maintained extremely close ties: Putin met Castro in Cuba as soon as he came to power in 2000 and asked for the embargo to be lifted. Cuba, for its part, supported its Russian counterpart in the Georgian dossier. Their relationship, although asymmetrical (Russia remains Cuba’s main creditor), is multifaceted. The economic aspect remains preponderant; This is evidenced by the authorization given to Russia in 2008 to drill offshore oil located in Cuban waters, and to allow Russian mining companies to operate the nickel mine in Cuba. But that same year, Russia proved to be of great help when Cuba faced three hurricanes. She sent four planes carrying food, medical equipment and building materials.

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The list of so-called “ambiguous” countries is longer than that of proven allies. It is made up of states which admittedly do not officially support Vladimir Putin but which are careful not to condemn the invasion.

China’s middle position

This is the case of the Chinese government, which wants to act as a mediator, without directly opposing the Kremlin. A privileged partner but not necessarily an automatic ally, the Chinese government initially declared that China had “ always respected the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries “, even if she ” understand “the Russian offensive, because of its history” complicated with Ukraine. She prefers to talk about military operation “rather than invasion and pleads for a resolution of the conflict” through negotiation “. The Ukrainian crisis is also an opportunity for it to establish its position as a great rival of the United States, to criticize NATO and, according to certain military experts, to increase its pressure on Taiwan tenfold.

Israel in trouble

Israel’s balancing act is more difficult to hold, between its affinity with the United States, its friendship with Russia, which it must preserve in order to continue hitting Iran’s allies in Syria, and its proximity to Ukraine. Israel voted to condemn Russia at the UN on Wednesday March 2. Rightly embarrassed, Naftali Bennett nevertheless wishes, like China, to play the role of intermediary. This is why he traveled to meet Vladimir Putin on March 5, a Sabbath day, before phoning Volodymyr Zelensky. He then traveled to Berlin to speak with Olaf Scholz. Almost no details have leaked on these interviews. On the other hand, we know that it is important to the Jewish state – of which 15% (out of 9.2 million inhabitants) of citizens are of immigrant origin from the former USSR – to welcome refugees. jews. More than 2,000 Ukrainian Jews have already landed in Israel, and that number is expected to rise to 100,000.

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India in the non-aligned tradition

On the Indian side, Prime Minister Modi’s government wants to be non-aligned. While advocating a diplomatic solution, he promised humanitarian aid to Ukraine, without condemning Russia. What will determine the inflection (or not) of its line? India’s interests. ” We have to wait to see what impact these sanctions will have on our national interests. This is a point that we must study carefully because any sanction will have consequences on our relationship (with Russia) said Foreign Secretary Harsh Shringla on February 24. This is why New Delhi abstained in the UN Security Council vote. At the military level, India is mainly supplied by Russia. But she also does not want to jeopardize her relationship of trust with France, in order to promote stability in the Indo-Pacific.

South Africa… and the memories of Apartheid

“Caution”. The key word of South Africa. She also drew the “abstention” card at the UN. On February 28, the day of the anniversary of 30 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries, the Russian Foreign Ministry took the liberty of inflicting a booster shot on its ally: “ Our interaction [avec l’Afrique du Sud] is distinguished by the strong ties of friendship and cooperation established during the struggle against apartheid, which continue to develop today. A small hiccup nevertheless in the South African government: the Ministry of International Relations has apparently taken liberties by clearly calling for a withdrawal of Russian troops, an initiative which has probably triggered the anger of President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Relations between South Africa and Russia grew closer during apartheid. During this period, the African National Congress, to which Nelson Mandela belonged and which is today the ruling party, was at war against the segregationist regime. At least 2,000 of its militants went into exile in the USSR, to receive military training. Reputed to be loyal to its allies, South Africa should not a priori turn against Russia.

Turkey, not in a position of strength

Can the same be said for Recep Tayyip Erdogan? The Turkish leader, close to Vladimir Putin, has advanced his pawns in recent days, with the aim of playing the matchmaker between the parties, by offering to organize talks. Turkey may belong to NATO (since 1952), it may condemn the Russian invasion, it does not wish to join the sanctions against Moscow. Aware of the economic fragility of his country, Erdogan wants to secure his back. However, 25% of its summer foreign tourists are… Russians and Ukrainians. Finally, Turkey remains dependent on the supply of Russian gas (55%) and oil (12%), even if the figures fluctuate depending on the year. With the fall of the Turkish lira in 2021, the country is experiencing high inflation (more than 48% in one year), which puts it in an uncomfortable position.

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