By Justin Farrell
Earlier last week, the so-called G8, the group of wealthiest industrial nations – now G7 and comprised of United States, Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Japan, and Italy – chose to suspend Russia from the alliance in response to Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea.
In a statement released by the leaders of G7 countries, they condemned the “acquisition of part or all of another state’s territory through coercion or force”, declaring the Moscow-orchestrated referendum in Crimea on March 16 as invalid. The G7 also abandoned its plans to hold the G8 summit in Sochi, Russia this June. The Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergey Lavrov dismissed the gesture stating that being out of G8 was of no importance to Russia. Russia was added to the group by G7 members in 1998 as a welcoming sign to political and economic reforms the government of Boris Yeltsin was conducting. This is when G7 was transformed to G8.
Later in the week, in a much larger measure to garner support from the international community, Ukraine with backing from the United States introduced UN General Assembly Resolution A/68/L.39 “Calling Upon the States Not to Recognize Changes in Status of Crimea Region.” The bill passed with 100 voting in favor, 11 against and 58 abstained, ruling the referendum in Crimea and its results had no validity.
While the measure was a clear attempt of the U.S. administration to demonstrate international community’s condemnation of Russian invasion of Ukraine and annexation of Crimea, it was expected that Russia would garner a support of their own to denounce the measure. Among the 11 nations that voted against the bill are Armenia, Belarus, Bolivia, Cuba, North Korea, Nicaragua, Russian Federation, Sudan, Syria, Venezuela, Zimbabwe. None of these states seem to have any problems with Ukraine itself. So, why did they vote against Ukraine’s territorial integrity and Russia’s annexation of Crimea?
Each country may have a long list of reasons of their own but here are just a few, in the order of ‘severity of the reason’, as argued by the author:
1. Russian Federation
Needless to say, Russia is the actual country which invaded Ukraine, declaring both that the invaders are the “self-defense forces” of Crimea’s Russian community and that Russia, as an outside power, has the authority to go in to protect the ethnic Russians, allegedly under the threat of “Ukrainian nationalists.” As the country which orchestrated the Crimea referendum on March 16 and secured the positive result (97% voting in favor, as per Russian mass media), it is obvious that it would vote “NO” against the UN GA resolution.
2. North Korea
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is the nation which under one-family rule instituted a strictly anti-American foreign policy. North Korea’s contemporary history and its political establishment, for that matter, is built on the foundation of conflict with the United States. As an enemy which supported Seoul and fought the North Korea regime itself in 1950-1953 Korean war, the United States is a national security threat to Pyongyang. There is still no peace treaty between the two after the ceasefire was signed and the peninsula was divided on the 38th parallel. It is also one of a few nations that possess nuclear weapons. In 2005, it openly confirmed it had nuclear weapons. In 2003, it had already withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and thence was subject to sanctions by the UN Security Council, including Resolution 1695, Resolution 1718, Resolution 1874, and Resolution 2087. With the young Kim Jong-Un taking the office in late 2011, the relations worsened further. Pyongyang comes out with warning messages and at the time of writing this article North and South Korea exchange fire. The deliberate anti-U.S. foreign policy is the primary reason for siding with Russia to vote against U.S.-backed resolution.
The United States has had strained relations with the northeastern African country for over two decades. Washington has been critical of the Omar al-Bashir’s government due to constant human rights abuse and war crimes against the humanity. Embraced by continuous conflicts, Khartoum has systematically got rid of opposition by use of excessive force and total disregard to the civilian deaths and suffering. Although the United States had welcomed al-Bashir’s peace accords with the South Sudanese rebels which led to the creation of an independent state of South Sudan, it had condemned the Sudanese dictator’s handling of conflict in Darfur. The United States remains a largest donor of humanitarian aid to the refugees in Darfur. Sudan and its cornered leader al-Bashir, who has been indicted by the International Criminal Court in 2008, has cordial relations with Moscow. The Russian leadership had opposed the indictment and Russia’s military-industrial complex benefits from sale of arms to the Sudanese army. It was in the best interests of Sudan to vote against the resolution backed by the United States.
Needless to say, the Syrian government owes much to the support of Russia and specifically, its president Vladimir Putin, for its continuous support within the last three years of civil war in Syria. From the outset of the conflict, Washington has tried to remove Bashar al-Assad from power and supported the marginal opposition groups. Although the United States does not have troops on the ground like it did in Afghanistan and Iraq, it fought a fierce diplomatic war, including one in the UN Security Council, where it stood opposed to Russia and China vetoing any measures against the Assad regime. So far was Russia invested in defending Bashar al-Assad that it stood opposed to use of internationally sanctioned force even when the international community condemned him for alleged use of chemical weapons on civilians. Clearly, Syria was another battleground between Russian and the West, where Russia stood its ground and succeeded in rebuffing the diplomatic attacks from Washington. Russia has a vested interest in Syria, also due to the presence of Russian military personnel in Tartus – the only Russian naval base on the foreign soil. Furthermore, the U.S. State Department recently ordered closure of the Syrian embassy in Washington and its staff to be out by a deadline. As far as Bashar al-Assad is concerned, the annexation of Crimea and voting at UN General Assembly served a good chance to pay back President Putin.
The Cuban allegiance to the anti-U.S. camp dates back to Fidel Castro’s first days in office. From embargoes to Bay of Pigs invasion to the Cuban Missile Crisis, the relationship has been rocky at all times. So bad were the relations and so confident was Fidel Castro’s government that it took upon itself to fight pro-American governments and forces in Africa. Moscow, in turn, has kept warm relations with Cuba during and after the collapse of Soviet Union. With Soviet Union’s economy on the brink of collapse, Cuba went extremely poor – Soviet Union was largest donor, providing aid and buying Cuban sugar cane – but Moscow retained its status of an “elder brother” since 1991. In the last few years, on the high from oil profits, the Russian government made announcements about possible opening of a naval base in Cuba, a determined response to Washington which has kept expanding NATO close to the proximity of Moscow. With Raul Castro replacing Fidel in 2008 (but effectively since 2006), the relations between the United States and Cuba had eased allowing more travel between the two states. However, true to its commitment and bilateral relations with Russia, Cuba chose to side with Russia in the diplomatic war at the UN General Assembly.
Caracas has become synonymous with anti-Americanism. Its late leader Hugo Chavez has been defiant of the U.S. government for years and accused Washington of constant intervention in private matters of independent states. Promoting socialism, Chavez had been critical of capitalist nature of the United States all along and welcomed any country’s position opposing Washington in its international engagements. It is one of the government which embraced Iranian government in is hard times. Chavez’s successor Nicolas Maduro went further in straining relations with the United States. It had recently expelled three American diplomats accusing them of secretly supporting opposition and what not. Venezuela is also one of the countries which the leadership of the Russian Defense Ministry had mentioned on its list of potential hosts of Russian navy bases. The disagreements between the Maduro government and Obama administration are fresh and it was expected that Caracas would vote on the resolution backed by the U.S. and opposed by Russia.
Bolivia’s Evo Morales is yet another South American leader who denounces the American capitalism and Washington’s intrusion in domestic affairs of other countries. The relations worsened after the allegations that the Bolivian government was hiding Edward Snowden, the American and former NSA contractor who fled the United States and disclosed confidential documents to media in China, Russia and elsewhere. Morales was angered last year after his plane was barred from entering the airspace of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France and he was forced to land in Austria. Snowden was believed to be on that plane. He blamed the U.S. for the act and threatened to close the U.S. Embassy in Bolivia. On par with Venezuela’s government, Morales ensured his country would cast a “NO” vote at the UN General Assembly.
This south African country had had no diplomatic relations with the United States for years until the normalization of ties in 1980. Washington has been critical of Mugabe’s government for the genocide of the majority tribes, subjugation of media and all forms of businesses in the country, changing the constitution and accumulating enormous amount of wealth at the expense of people of Zimbabwe. The United States has had sanctions imposed import of any natural resources from Zimbabwe. It also supported the rival of Mugabe, Morgan Tsvangirai who became Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in 2009 and has been critical of presidential elections in the country, last one being in 2013. Zimbabwe is another purchaser of arms from Russia making it an easy interdependence against the West. Mugabe also owes it to both the Russians and Chinese for vetoing any proposals by the United States at the UN to impose international sanctions on the regime. Payback time.
Nicaragua has had good relations with Moscow, especially during the civil war when Washington supported the Contras, militia fighting the Sandinistas in 1980’s. That’s when the Soviets provided the government with helicopters and ammunition to fight the rebels. The ties cooled after change of government in 1990. The relations were revitalized after Sandinista leader Daniel Ortega took office in 2006. Under Ortega, Managua was second in recognizing Russia-backed breakaway territories of South Ossetia and Abkhazia, de-jure belonging to Georgia. As a reward, Russia provided financial aid to Nicaragua and expanded its diplomatic ties with Central American nation. In December 2008, Russian navy sailed to Nicaraguan at the invitation of President Ortega and Russian media agencies claimed Nicaragua was one of the countries ready to host Russian navy on its territories. However, at the insistence of the opposition, the Russian warships left due to the fact that approval of the naval visit had to be confirmed by the parliament first as it breached the constitution of Nicaragua.
Need I say more? Belarus has close cultural links to Russia and its leader Alexander Lukashenko remains openly anti-American in his rhetoric. Washington has repeatedly accused the Lukashenko government of human rights abuse and even possible hiding of Saddam Hussein during the Operation Iraqi Freedom which turned out to be a false allegation. It has also disapproved Lukashenko’s grip of power and manipulation of elections processes in the country. The bilateral relations worsened further with 2004 Belarus Democracy Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush which restricted any non-humanitarian aid to the country and extended help to the opposition. It also put the country on the watch list requesting the intelligence community to watch out for any sale of arms by Belarus to the countries harboring terrorism. The measure was not taken lightly and Lukashenko accused the U.S. government of intervention in private matters of Belarus. The current UN General Assembly vote was a good chance to amplify its anti-American rhetoric and side with Russia. As a result, what really suffered were the bilateral Ukrainian-Belarus relations. Ironically, in the past few days, Belorussians in Russia’s Smolensk region launched their own campaign to secede and join Belarus.
Lastly, as a small nation in South Caucasus – which has an excessive dependence on Russia – Armenia cast a “NO” vote. This could have been a surprise to Washington, as it retained warm relations with Yerevan all along. However, it was expected that Armenia would side with Russia on this. Yerevan is in no position to contest any Russian move in international affairs. It was actually one of the first countries which explicitly showed its support for annexation of Crimea to Russia even before the referendum took place on March 16, citing the rights of Russians in Crimea for self-determination. In reality though, Armenia can’t afford anything short of that. First, it is economically dependent on Russia with the major industries of the country in the hands of Russian state companies. Second, the Russian armed forces are on the ground in Armenia and are there to stay through 2021. Russia’s 102nd military base in Gyumri, Armenia is gradually expanded and updated with new shipments by Russia. The Russians stand guard against NATO on the border of Armenia with Turkey. They are also guarantors of Armenia’s security against possible military threats from Azerbaijan. Armenia occupies approximately 20 percent of Azerbaijan’s territories as a result of Nagorno-Karabakh war in the 1990’s. Armenia maintains that Nagorno-Karabakh, the breakaway territory – is an independent state which had fought the war with Azerbaijan – on their own using its self-defense forces, an allegation strikingly similar to the Russians’ claim on Crimea. Evidently, Armenia cares less about relations with the United States than one might think. The UN General Assembly vote damaged the bilateral relations between Ukraine and Armenia with Kiev recalling its ambassador from Armenia and presenting a diplomatic note to Yerevan. The U.S. government also issued a statement expressing its disappointment over Yerevan’s vote.
The fact that 11 nations supported Russia in violating international law and territorial integrity of Ukraine and in the wake of Russia being kicked out of G7, Moscow might as well create a group of 11 nations -the G11 – which could be vocal on its behalf in the years to come. The United States and its allies are likely to use more diplomatic force to denounce the annexation of Ukrainian territory to Russia and Kremlin might use the support from the above nations to justify its actions, at the very least, for the domestic consumption.