The difficult exile of Moscow on the international stage

Russia ‘more isolated than ever’? Two months after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine, US President Joe Biden’s pledge seems like pious hope, since the ban on Moscow still meets with a section of the international community that is reluctant to conform.

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“There is a very clear isolation of Russia from the western bloc, particularly due to a series of successive sanctions that have hampered both trade and financial exchanges,” said Sylvie Matelly, deputy director of the Institute for International and Strategic Relations (Iris).

“On the other hand, with regard to Russia’s isolation on the international stage, the situation is very different, with a certain number of very cautious countries that refused to give in to Western pressure and accepted it to position themselves in their soul and conscience” , adds the French researcher.

The Russian military offensive unleashed on February 24 almost immediately aroused outrage among Europeans and Americans, who promised Moscow isolation and “unprecedented” sanctions.

In the weeks that followed, NATO and EU airspace was closed to Russian planes and the United States imposed an import embargo on Russian oil and gas. At the same time, some Russian banks will be excluded from the Swift international payment system.

But beyond the western bloc, the picture looks different. On March 2, India and South Africa in particular abstained in the UN General Assembly in a vote on Russia’s withdrawal from Ukraine.

In Latin America, Brazil and Mexico are refusing to participate in the sanctions packages.

“There is a growing number of countries that are willing to assert their independence, even though they yearn for closer cooperation with the West and even need Western support,” notes Chris Landsberg, Professor of International Relations at the University of Johannesburg the fest column of the Washington Post.

“It is one thing to condemn the invasion of Ukraine, it is quite another to launch an economic war against Russia, and many countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia are unwilling to take the plunge,” said the former Chilean ambassador in India and South Africa, Jorge Heine. “They don’t want to be pushed into a position that is contrary to their own interests.”

Such is the case with Saudi Arabia or the Emirates, which have so far avoided taking a stance against Russia. Or India.

For New Delhi, “the war was accompanied by a brutal and unwelcome election between the West and Russia, an election it avoided at all costs,” explains Shivshankar Menon, an adviser to former Indian Prime Minister Manmohan War Singh.

“The United States is an essential and indispensable partner in the modernization of India, but Russia remains an important partner for geopolitical and military reasons,” he recalled in an article published in early April entitled “The Free World Fantasy : Are the Democracies really united against Russia?”.

On the ground, however, the western powers spare no effort to increase the pressure on Moscow. At UNESCO, around forty countries have intensified talks in recent months to achieve the relocation of the cultural heritage committee meeting in Russia, which is scheduled for June.

With one result, at this point, in halftone: the announcement of an indefinite postponement, without assuring at this point that Russia will not host the meeting once the military offensive is complete.

The same attempt at the G20 summit where the Indonesian presidency, in a hurry to exclude Moscow from the encirclement, eventually refused in the name of impartiality.

Even the lack of short-term effects of western economic sanctions on the ongoing conflict does not help to convince reluctant countries.

“Yes, the sanctions are severe,” stresses Judy Dempsey, analyst at Carnegie Europe, “but they do not prevent Putin from extending his siege of Mariupol (…) or from bombing other cities”.

“If the aim was to bend Putin to withdraw from Ukraine, it is clear that it did not work,” says Sylvie Matelly. “He has certainly lowered his ambitions, but not so much in terms of sanctions as in terms of the determination of Ukrainian forces on the ground.”

We have to wait a few more months to measure the medium and long-term effects of the sanctions on the Russian economy.

“The situation in the Russian economy will become clearer in June-July,” notes Russian financial analyst Alexei Vedev from the Gaidar Institute. “The economy continues to work with its reserves.”

“These reservations are diminishing, but as long as they remain, the sanctions are not fully felt,” he adds.

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