Free from fear or favour
No tracking. No cookies

Beyond Ukraine’s Western Allies, Condemnation of Putin has Been Lacking. Can Ukraine Appeal to the Global South?

As Brazil assumes the presidency of the G20 and the UN offers concessions to Russia, is Ukraine losing the war of hearts and minds?

India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi with Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva at G20 Leaders’ Summit in New Delhi. Photo: UPI/Alamy

Newsletter offer

Subscribe to our newsletter for exclusive editorial emails from the Byline Times Team.

While fighting to liberate its territory from Russia, Ukraine has also fought to garner sympathy and support from the international community, particularly from the global South. Despite some recent high-profile setbacks, Ukraine’s diplomats have a shot at adapting their messages for a less sympathetic audience and capitalizing on Russia’s own splintering partnerships.

Earlier this month, the Group of 20 leading economies stepped back from its stronger stance last year against Russia’s invasion in which most countries explicitly condemned Russia’s invasion. Instead, this year’s joint declaration called on “all states to uphold the principles of international law,” and avoided naming Russia, except in praise of the deal to safely get Ukrainian grain to the global market which Russia now violates.

Despite earning praise from the United States, the United Kingdom, and other Western governments, Ukraine’s foreign ministry declared that the statement was “nothing to be proud of,” and instead posted an altered version explicitly linking the violations mentioned in the statement to Russia’s war crimes.

Ukraine has earned steadfast support from its Western allies, but especially as Russia’s war against it drags on, Kyiv sees a serious need to garner support from other governments around the world.

There have been some notable successes, particularly with South Korea and Japan, which have pledged sizable packages of humanitarian, financial, and non-lethal military aid. Saudi Arabia has also shown an interest in taking on what may be a genuine peacemaker role, hosting an August summit on the war that conspicuously left Russia out and focused on Ukraine’s vision for peace.

How Britain Can Help Ukraine and Secure Europe: By Extending its Joint Expeditionary Force

As there is no consensus yet to invite Ukraine into NATO, an interim security deal would be guaranteed by including it and Poland in the JEF

Unfortunately, that may be where Ukraine’s diplomatic successes end. The United Nations recently drew ire over reports that Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has offered concessions to Russia in the form of sanctions relief in exchange for Moscow rejoining the grain deal it violated—even though this may show the Kremlin its blackmail tactics can bear fruit.

Additionally, Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, upon assuming the G20 presidency, defiantly declared that Russian President Vladimir Putin would be welcome at next year’s summit in Rio de Janeiro, despite Brazil’s obligation under international law to arrest him as a fugitive from the International Criminal Court.

He backtracked Monday and said it would be left up to the judiciary, but also questioned why Brazil was a signatory to the ICC in the first place. Putin recently skipped out on a BRICS summit in South Africa for fear he would be arrested under the same ICC obligations.

Lula has been particularly friendly to the Kremlin’s outlook on the war, saying in April that Ukraine should consider surrendering Crimea to Russia and that “Zelenskyy cannot want it all.” He’s also suggested that one of the main reasons the war has continued is because the United States is fueling it by giving Ukraine the weapons to defend itself from Russia’s invading force.


Receive the monthly Byline Times newspaper and help to support fearless, independent journalism that breaks stories, shapes the agenda and holds power to account.

We’re not funded by a billionaire oligarch or an offshore hedge-fund. We rely on our readers to fund our journalism. If you like what we do, please subscribe.

The shock of Russia’s invasion was still palpable at last year’s G20 summit in Indonesia, whose president, Joko Widodo, has been more sympathetic to Ukraine. This year, India set a cooler tone with Prime Minister Narendra Modi saying geopolitical issues—meaning Russia’s invasion—shouldn’t be a distraction at the summit. With Lula in charge next year, Ukraine may find the G20 to be a far less welcoming forum.

However, there are some reasons for hope. For one, Turkey increasingly seems willing to vocalize its support for Ukraine. Despite being a member of NATO, Turkey has often straddled the fence and portrayed itself as a willing partner of both Ukraine and Russia. But recent months have seen Ankara renege on a promise to Moscow that it would hold Ukrainian prisoners of war until the end of the conflict and grow increasingly vocal in its confirmation that Crimea is Ukraine and the peninsula’s indigenous Crimean Tatars be protected from Russian persecution. Ukraine’s new Crimean Tatar defense minister, Rustem Umerov, is a fitting candidate to capitalize on these diplomatic openings.

Meanwhile, India, the host of this year’s G20 summit and the driving force behind the compromise declaration, could also prove more helpful to Ukraine going forward. Since the start of Russia’s invasion, Modi has largely avoided taking sides, and has indeed capitalized on Russia’s fire sale on oil thanks to Western sanctions while remaining a major importer of Russian arms. But his insistence at the G20 summit that the challenges facing the global South take precedence, as well as India’s positioning of itself as a peace broker, may present an opportunity for Ukraine.

Russia’s violation of the UN and Turkish-brokered grain deal, which provides critical food supplies around the world—but particularly to the global South—is exactly the kind of pressing issue Modi is talking about. Ukraine and its partners should push him to take a larger role in pressuring Russia to end its attacks on Ukrainian grain supplies and threats against commercial shipping in the Black Sea. If Modi’s remarks are genuine, he’ll take this effort seriously.

Additionally, Ukraine would be wise to capitalize on Russia’s own inability to meet obligations to partners like Armenia and Cuba. Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan recently declared that Yerevan could no longer rely on Russia as a security guarantor. “Our strategy should be to try in this situation to maximally decrease our dependency on others,” he said. While Armenia’s enmity with Turkey likely precludes Ukraine from risking an important relationship with Ankara, Western partners can help increase Russia’s international isolation.

‘The ‘Crimea Dilemma’? There is No Dilemma’

Many appear to believe it would be reasonable to offer the peninsula as some sort of final settlement of the war in Ukraine to Russia – why? asks Paul Niland

Cuba could present another opportunity after it took the notable step of exposing a Russian human trafficking scheme that coerced Cubans into fighting in Ukraine. Despite its long ties to Russia, Moscow is increasingly unable to act as an economic crutch for Havana. Low-level areas of cooperation on issues such as tech and medicine could be strong building blocks for a future relationship between the two.

Ukraine faces an uphill battle in its diplomatic outreach. But despite centuries of exploitation from a West that, on Ukraine, is finally living up to the values it professes, plenty of countries in the global South seem unwilling to risk Russia’s ire to stand with another country suffering from imperial aggression.

Kyiv would be wise to explore creative diplomatic solutions with governments around the world as it seeks to gather greater international support for it to hold out against a long war with Russia. Ukraine’s diplomats have shown serious talent in messaging directed at the West, but it needs to invest in similar outreach to other countries around the world it wants to sway. The onus isn’t only on Ukraine though—with Russia committing war crimes almost every day, all those states who sit on the sidelines will have a hard time holding the moral high ground in the years to come.

Doug Klain is a policy analyst at Razom for Ukraine and a nonresident fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Eurasia Center. Find him on X (formerly Twitter) at @DougKlain.

Written by

This article was filed under
, , , ,