The second day of the Munich Security Conference on Saturday Feb. 19, started with numerous early breakfasts running in parallel and addressing a variety of global topics – from food security and climate change to economic development and the reform of the international institutions.
Unlike in previous years, the voices of the Global South were heavily represented and heard during these numerous public and side events.
The topic of Ukraine, however, continued to dominate the discussions. While everyone seemed to agree on the urgency of resolving the conflict with Russia and easing the pains of ordinary Ukrainians, a profound divergence was evident as to the means of accomplishing this.
Some representatives of the African Union as well as China and Brazil spoke in favor of peace talks, while Ukraine’s transatlantic allies were primarily focused on the need for speed when it comes to the delivery of weapons, that is, on victory.
China: From Belts & Roads to Global Peace Initiative for Ukraine?
China is the most prominent player of the BRIC states and the one that exerts substantial economic influence in the form of investments and credit lines available mostly to the developing countries in Africa and the rest of Asia.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign affairs representative, focused his speech on the need to respect the territorial integrity of all states, thus staying in alignment with the UN Charter.
He argued for non-interference of foreign states in the domestic affairs of others – clearly referring to the US support provided to Taiwan – and highlighted China’s unwillingness to “add fuel to the fire” when it comes to Russia’s war in Ukraine.
“We are on the side of peace and dialogue. President Xi suggested that Russia and Ukraine should sit down and speak to each other. Some actors might not want to see these peace forces materializing. They might have strategic goals larger than Ukraine itself. This warfare must not continue. We need to think calmly, especially our friends in Europe, what role Europe should play to manifest its strategic autonomy.” – stated Wang Yi.
He also reiterated the core of China’s approach to foreign affairs: Peaceful economic development. The cornerstone of this nationally-oriented goal that took an international turn is China’s Global Development Initiative (GDI), launched with great fanfare at the UN General Assembly in 2022. Yi called it “a strategic choice” that calls on global peace and security as key preconditions.
Naturally, Russia’s continuous war of aggression poses significant risks to such an aim. China’s response? The Global Security Initiative, the details of which are yet to be revealed at the UN Security Council in New York next week.
What can we expect from such a proposal coming from China? As Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba has put it “It is simply too early to tell,” while Germany’s foreign policy chief Annalena Baerbock welcomed such a step.
Brazil: Muddling Through….
The reaction of the Germany’s foreign minister to the prospect of a Chinese peace deal initiative is not at all surprising. Germany’s leadership – after finally taking a decision on the delivery of Leopard tanks to Ukraine – is now actively urging the Global South states in possession of the German tanks and ammunition to transfer them to Ukraine as soon as possible.
But even Chancellor Scholz could not convince his Brazilian counterpart Lula to do so during his official visit to Brazil at the end of January. The German leader’s attempts to secure a more global coalition of states committed to helping Ukraine not only in words has faced significant resistance.
Why so? There are several reasons behind Brazil’s official stance. One is the obvious lack of understanding of what is actually driving Russian revisionism. During his official press conference with Chancellor Scholz, President Lula allowed himself to question the forces behind the Russian aggression, implying that President Zelensky’s actions could have also provoked it.
Secondly, Brazil, similar to many developing states, has much homework to do in terms of addressing numerous domestic concerns – from poverty and access to quality healthcare to deforestation of the Amazon and rising inflation, mostly driven by Russia’s war.
Ukraine, after all, is far away and should be left to the Europeans and the American to handle, especially considering Brazil’s heavy domestic agenda and an increasing pressure to play a more prominent role in the regional structures of South America.
Brazil’s lack of clear understanding and strategic vision on the Ukraine crisis became very evident during the MSC this year.
The call for “peace” and a vague idea of the BRICs being involved in finding a peaceful solution to Russia’s aggressive behavior is a testament to such a strategic oversight. After all, as the leader of the G-20 in 2024, can Brazil afford to simply sit on the fence?
India: The Sleeping Asian Tiger – will it roar?
India was poorly represented at the MSC this year. Kyiv Post requested an interview with the most prominent government official from India attending the event – Misri Vikram, its deputy National Security Advisor. But such a request was unfortunately denied.
The reasons could be many: from being preoccupied with bi-lateral meetings to not having a clear position on the Ukraine crisis.
The latter seems more probable as India continues to enjoy a special economic and military relationship with Russia. Additionally, and importantly, history has a role in the bilateral relations between the two states.
During the Indo-Pakistan war of 1971 the Soviet Union supported the Indian side not only with words but ammunition, while the Americans chose to side with Pakistan.
Hence, the US is still perceived with mistrust, despite the obvious warming of the relations with the Biden administration. Russia, on the other hand, enjoys a special status of a reliable partner, even after the invasion.
In practice that means that Russia continues to remain India’s primary supplier of weapons and ammunition, even though that status is slowly changing as India is increasingly diversifying its weapon deliveries to the United States and France.
Russia’s mounting failures on the battlefield in Ukraine should also have provided some food for thought to the Indian decision makers: Can Russia really deliver on the most effective defense capabilities needed to deter security threats coming from China and Pakistan?
On the economic side, even though India continues to benefit from discounted Russian crude oil, the war in Ukraine has also released inflationary forces, raising the price of food staples consumed by the majority of India’s still relatively poor population.
However, despite India’s initial support provided to Russia, its position has started to show signs of subtle change. Prime Minister Modi’s remarks and willingness to sign a collective condemnation paper during the G-20 summit in Bali last year demonstrated India’s changing position on the Ukraine war.
It also signaled potential to play a more proactive role on the mediation front, especially this year when India heads the G-20 and aims to position itself as a leader in addressing critical global issues. The longer the war drags on, the greater the pressure will be on the fence sitters, including India and Brazil.
Day 2 of the MSC was a very dynamic day of discussions on Ukraine amongst its most ardent supporters, namely the EU’s Eastern European members as well as the Baltic states and the Nordics, all of which expressed in unison their support for Ukraine’s NATO and EU membership. But, as usual, there are nuances and cleavages in the Western Alliance for Ukraine, which will be explored in more detail.
Author Irina Pavlova is an international communications specialist based in Munich