On the occasion of the strategic upheaval of the war in Ukraine, the West is beginning to understand that its moral lessons are no longer heard by the majority of the world’s populations.
The West, this large bloc of liberal industrialised democracies – North America, Europe, Japan, South Korea, Australia – is the only one to have taken sanctions against Russia, to punish it for the war it has been waging on Ukraine since 24 February.
Does this mean that the countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America approve of the invasion of Ukraine by Russian forces? No. Because they are very attached to the United Nations Charter, which enshrines the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all its members, large and small, young and old.
Ukraine is a sovereign country, recognised as such by the Russians for thirty years. At the G-20 Foreign Ministers’ Summit in Bali on 7-8 July, these non-Western countries did not boycott Mr Lavrov, but they did not welcome him as a hero either.
The reality is that these non-western countries – many of whose leaders were educated in the former Soviet Union – have adopted a position of neutrality in what they see as a family feud. Moreover, they have difficulty accepting the moral lessons dispensed by the West. They see it as a hypocrite, a follower of “do as I say, not as I do”.
Since 2014, Russia has undertaken, first secretly and then openly, to provide military assistance to the Russian-speaking Donbass to secede from Ukraine. Western preachers cried foul at inadmissible interference.
But, the non-Western countries asked: “didn’t you do the same thing when you bombed Serbia in the spring of 1999, in order to obtain the secession of the Albanians of Kosovo?
To justify his aggression against Ukraine, Vladimir Putin claimed that its government was Nazi – an untruth. The West immediately blasted Moscow’s “liar”. Other countries were quick to remind it of the Anglo-Saxon lies about Iraq’s alleged “weapons of mass destruction” that justified the 2003 invasion and military occupation of the country until 2021 – a war that left at least 200,000 dead, most of them civilians.
The capture of Mariupol by the Russians almost levelled the city. The West then denounced the particular cruelty and insensitivity to civilians of the Russian army. The non-Westerners retorted in a low voice: “But to retake Mosul in July 2017, didn’t your planes raze it beforehand?”
In short, Africans, Asians and South Americans see the West as the prince of double standards. It blithely violates international law when it suits (as in Kosovo in 1999, Iraq in 2003, Libya in 2011), but cries foul when others do.
There is a second criticism made by non-Western countries. That of upsetting the global economic balance in the name of our ideological battles.
The considerable increase in the price of hydrocarbons and cereals will penalise the under-developed countries more than the rich West, which is able to build up reserves. They castigate America’s selfishness and mock the haste of its European vassals to shoot themselves in the foot.
The moralism is not incomprehensible. It is natural for the West to want to spread the values it cherishes. This psychological mechanism was already at work in previous centuries, when the colonial powers sought to spread Christianity in America, Asia and Africa.
But this moralism is unfortunately counterproductive in contemporary international relations. For the primary force that unites a nation is its pride.
There is not a single nation in the world today that is prepared to take lessons from abroad.
Moreover, the moral lesson is an outdated diplomatic tool in the digital age. What counts is the soft power described by Joseph Nye. If Iranian youth aspires today to the Western way of life, it is because they have experienced it via the Internet.
From March 2022, the European Commission championed sanctions: no more trade with the Russians, so as not to finance their war. But when they turned off the gas tap on their own initiative, it then cried blackmail. Puerile moralism!
The only thing to do was to calmly stockpile hydrocarbons, while secretly delivering military equipment to Ukraine, in order to re-establish a balance of power on Europe’s eastern borders.
This article was first published in Le Figaro.