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Moscow and Washington step up diplomatic fight over Ukraine war

Even from historic allies, there is little overt backing for President Putin's war in Europe amid threats of global economic pain

A clearer picture of international support for Russian President Vladimir Putin's invasion of Ukraine should emerge when the UN General Assembly holds an emergency vote on the issue, currently scheduled for this week.

Russian and United States diplomats have been cajoling their allies in Africa, Asia and Latin America ahead of the vote. Africa, with its 54 seats at the Assembly, is the target of some of the most energetic lobbying (AC Vol 63 No 2, Moscow guns for African gold).

Although a resolution against Russia's invasion is likely to pass, western governments want an overwhelming majority of the UN's 193 member states to confirm Moscow's isolation on the issues.

Early indicators show that many African states, even historic allies of Moscow's, oppose the war. At the UN Security Council vote on 25 February, Africa's three non-permanent members of the council – Gabon, Ghana and Kenya – all voted to 'deplore' Russia's invasion.

On the same day, the African Union's political head, Senegal's President Macky Sall, and its administrative leader, Chad's Moussa Faki Mahamat, called for an 'immediate ceasefire' and for Russia to respect the 'territorial integrity and national sovereignty of Ukraine.'

Presumably after consultations, Sall and Mahamat felt confident that their statement represented a majority view of the continent's governments although there are no reports of a formal vote being taken on the issue.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari's spokesman told CNN that the 'the Nigerian position is that dialogue should be prioritised over force'. 

On social media, many younger Africans have lambasted their leaders for trying to curry favour with western governments and NATO. 'It's regrettable Africans would look at NATO admiringly as if NATO had never tried to destabilise Africa,' wrote one African student at Harvard.

South Africa has been wavering on the issue. Until last week it was studiedly neutral, advocating negotiations but declining to engage further.

Then, three days after the invasion, Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor issued a statement calling for Russia's immediate withdrawal. She called for inclusive talks led by the UN Security Council and 'enhanced diplomacy'. She added that 'all parties have much to gain from a negotiated outcome and much to lose from unnecessary and violent conflict.'

That statement, according to multiple sources, has unleashed another doctrinal row within the government.

It boosts the argument of those in the ruling African National Congress who say President Cyril Ramaphosa is too close to western governments and multinational companies.

It also complicates South Africa's global posture. It is a member of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) grouping, which offers it diplomatic and economic support. China and India, which has a non-permanent seat on the UN Security Council, both abstained on the Ukraine vote on 25 February.

Central African Republic, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Mali and Sudan (all states with a military-security connection with Moscow) are likely to back Russia.

Kenya's ambassador to the UN, Martin Kimani, delivered a powerful condemnation of Russia's actions last week but also threw in a critique of NATO's intervention in Libya in 2011, which triggered the fall of Moammer el Gadaffi, plunging the country into further chaos.

Kimani compared President Putin's lament over the Soviet Union's disintegration to Africa's independence era after the demise of Europe's colonialism.

'Kenya and almost every African country was birthed by the ending of empire. Our borders were not of our own drawing,' said Kimani. 'Had we chosen to pursue states on the basis of ethnic, racial or religious homogeneity, we would still be waging bloody wars many decades later.'

'Rather than form nations that looked ever backwards into history with a dangerous nostalgia, we chose to look forward to a greatness none of our many nations and peoples had ever known.'

Where all this will lead will be tested later in the year when Russia is due to host another summit for African leaders, this time in St Petersburg, and China is due to host a BRICS summit, bringing Russia and South Africa together.

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