Africa and Russian-Ukrainian War: Beyond the Russo-NATO Struggle for Global Hegemony

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Bola A. Akinterinwa 

The Russian-Ukrainian war is interesting from various perspectives. First is it a war? If it is, which type of war? Is it a lawful war? Is it not a war of attrition? Western countries call it a Russian invasion while the Russians say it is a ‘Special Military Intervention.’ The United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) calls it an aggression. Whether it is an invasion, a special military intervention, or aggression, they all have the same devastating effects. 

Second, the war raises the nexus between technocratic advice and decisions of policy makers. For instance, US foreign policy technocrats have been warning, and on a serious note, that the United States should not encourage the membership expansion of the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation NATO) to Eastern Europe, warning that the implications could be more deleterious. The political decision makers listened to the advice but never accepted it. This scenario is particularly interesting from the perspective of the Boko Haramists and the Government of Nigeria. Academic technocrats have been proffering what the constructive approach to the containment of the insurrection should be, but their advice appears to have been falling on deaf ears. The outcome has been recidivism of terrorism.

Thirdly, the Russian-Ukrainian war has divided, more than it has united, the European Union. Several policy decisions taken by the European Union as sanctionary measures against Russia also have negative impact on some of the EU Member States. This has been to the extent that such members have been asking for exemptions.

Fourthly, the war not only raises the issue of membership of countries like Sweden and Switzerland, of the NATO, and also of the security protection of such countries in Europe. In this regard, is neutrality in international relations coming to an end in the event of Sweden and Switzerland acceding to the NATO agreement? Professor Bolaji Akinyemi already raised this issue during Session 95 of thruMYeyes with Professor Bolaji Akinyemi on Thursday, May 5, 2022, anchored by Syncterface Media.

And perhaps most interestingly, the issue of non-alignment is also necessarily raised at the level of Africa’s attitudinal disposition towards the conflict. The Ukrainian president has been strenuously courting Africa’s support. So has western diplomacy tried to do, but Africa is already sharply divided on the matter. Apart from the division at the continental level, the division is also deep within some countries, because of the growing effects in various dimensions in many countries of Africa. What has been and what should be Africa’s approach to the conflict? What is the place of non-alignment policy in this regard? How will Africa be affected by the Russo-NATO quest for global hegemony? How will Africa be shaped again in the emerging new world order? And more curiously, whose world order?

Africa and the War

Without jot of doubt, the Russo-Ukrainian war has just started, not simply because of the deepening of battles, with increasing Euro-American military support for Ukraine and Russia’s indication of preparedness to damn all consequences, but particularly also because of the nature of the profound causal factors of the war and the new hegemonic order that is in the making. 

One factor that is not seriously talked about is the recidivist effort at de-Russification in Ukraine, the origin of which dates to more than 300 years ago. The effort was recently reactivated in the 1990s following efforts at rebranding of the Central Squares and main streets in several cities, towns, and villages by the post-Soviet governments. There were anti-Russia protests in 2004. The protests reached their crescendo in 2014 following Russian annexation of Crimea. In fact, the anti-Moscow sentiments are best imagined following Russian special military intervention in Ukraine on 24 February 2022.

While Russia is pointing accusing fingers to Ukraine for ‘erasing Russian culture and even a genocide of Russian-speaking Ukrainians,’ as well as describing Ukrainian culture as ‘nationalist’ and ‘parochial,’ Ukrainian President Volodymyr has simply responded that Russia herself is directly responsible for the de-Russification. In his words, ‘you are doing it – in one generation’s lifetime and for ever. You are doing your best so that our people abandon the Russian language, because Russian will be associated with you, only with you, with these explosions and killings with your crimes.’ This explication is sarcastic, underscoring the point that it is the Russian special military intervention that compels and that will continue to compel de-Russification in Ukraine. 

Put differently, efforts at de-Russification in Ukraine have the potential to continue for a longer time to come. The mere fact that there are also millions of pro-Russia people in Ukraine means that internal contradictions cannot be quickly removed. Additionally, Russia appears to be targeting total victory at all costs, with the expectation that there might be a new strategic approach to the war come Monday, 9 May 2022 which is considered as Russia’s remembrance of their Victory Day.

It is important to recall here that on 22 June 1941, Russia was massively invaded by Nazi Germany which said that all Slavs were less-than-humans. And true, Germany was winning the battles in the beginning but, because of her strategic miscalculation that the war would not take more than three months to bring the Russians to their knees, the Nazi government felt there was no need for provision of winter materials. Most unfortunately, Russians resisted gallantly the invasion, and by so doing prolonging the war through the winter period. Russia resisted the invasion at very high costs: not less than 26.6 million Soviet lives were lost, of which 8,668,400 were military and about ten million civilians, according to the Russian Academy of Sciences. Soviet population in June 1941 was 196,700,000. It was reduced to 170,500,000 as at 1 January 1946.

More important, on 8 May 1945, the German forces surrendered to the Russian Red Army. The surrender took place on 8 May, Western European time, but on May 9 in the Soviet Union, hence Russians commemorate their Victory Day every May 9 since then. This sentiment of Victory Day cannot but be carried to the current Ukrainian battlefield tomorrow, May 9, 2022. Consequently, Africa must begin to evolve a long-term view of and policy on the war beyond the shooting war on the battle fields.

Secondly, the African Union is not united to the extent of adopted a united front vis-à-vis the Russo-Ukrainian conflict. In fact, the disunity, as noted above, is not only manifested continentally, but also at the national level. The case of South Africa is noteworthy: while President Cyril Ramaphosa holds the NATO responsible for the war, the main opposition leader of the Democratic Alliance in South Africa, John Steenhuisen is hobnobbing with the Ukrainian president.

John Steenhuisen, MP, went on a six-day visit to Ukraine for an on-the-spot evaluation of the alleged devastating effects of the Russian invasion. In the words of Steenhuisen, ‘I am in Ukraine to see for myself and speak for my country. Someone must. It is strongly in South Africa’s interest with the free world and come out hard against Russian aggression… In the era of fake news and propagandas, this is the only way to truly know what is happening.’

More important, the visit was prompted by the knock-on effect of the war on South Africa’s ‘own fuel, maize, cooking oil and fertilizer prizes (which) will reach deep into the pockets of poor South Africans who can already not make ends meet.’ While questions can be raised as to why it should be the responsibility of an opposition to be speaking for his country outside of Africa, there can be no disputing the fact that South Africa appears to have adopted a dualist strategy towards the Russo-Ukrainian war. The dualist approach is to be able to speak to both sides or opening the communication lines to the two countries: Ramaphosa condemning the NATO while Steenhuisen pitches his camp with Ukraine. President Ramaphosa has argued that ‘the war could have been avoided if NATO had heeded the warnings from amongst its leaders and officials over the years that its eastward expansion would lead to greater, not less, instability in the region,’ (Vide Al Jazeera and News Agencies, May 5, 2022). 

The pattern of African at the United Nations voting on condemnation of the Russian invasion is another reflection of the non-coordinated approach to the conflict. On 2nd March 2022 the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution which condemned ‘Russia’s aggression against Ukraine.’ It was voted by 141 out of the 193 Member States of the organisation. 35 countries abstained from voting. Of the 35 abstaining countries, 17 of them were from Africa. Eritrea was the only African country that voted against the resolution.

South Africa was against the resolution, noting that she ‘expected that the UN resolution would foremost welcome the commencement of dialogue between the parties and seek to create the conditions for these talks to succeed. Instead, the call for peaceful resolution through political dialogue is relegated to a single sentence close to the conclusion on the final text. This does not provide the encouragement and international backing that the parties need to continue with their efforts.’ The African Union wanted Russia to respect international law and Ukraine’s sovereignty.

As regards Nigeria, Nigeria voted to condemn Russian invasion but abstained from the vote suspending Russia from the UN Human Rights Council of the UNGA. A total of 93 countries voted in favour of suspension, 58 countries abstained while 24 countries voted against. Algeria, Burundi, CAR, Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Mali, and Zimbabwe voted against the suspension. Apart from Nigeria, Eswatini, The Gambia, Ghana, Guinea Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Senegal, South Africa, South Sudan, Togo, and Uganda abstained from voting.

Thus, African countries have not only shown uncoordinated and uncommon approach to the Russo-Ukrainian war, but also an attitudinal non-alignment. And the reasons cannot far-fetched. A country like Egypt that wheat importations from Russia and Ukraine were to the tune of 45% cannot be expected to take side. In fact, the United States Institute of Peace has it that there is an impending food scarcity in Africa, based on the consideration that in 2020 alone, Africa $4bn and $2.9bn worth of agricultural products respectively from Russia and Ukraine. And with the ongoing Russo-Ukrainian war, prices of corn, wheat and soybeans have surged. And more disturbingly, the Institute also says that about 20m people in the Sahel and West Africa do not have access to sufficient food. This is apart from the impact on oil exploration activities by Lukoil and Tatneft Oil companies, particularly in the Gulf of Guinea (Cameroon, Congo Kinshasa, Equatorial Guinea, and Nigeria, which are likely to be suspected. How does Africa respond to these challenges?

The Struggle for Global Hegemony

The Russo-Ukrainian war is strategically a struggle for the maintenance of the Euro-American driven global hegemony. As such, the war is not simply between Russia and Ukraine. The war is in three layers: Russo-Ukrainian, Euro-Ukrainian, and Russo-American dominated NATO. At the first level of Russia and Ukraine, the question of Ukraine’s membership of the NATO is a very critical issue. Ukraine is being encouraged, if not being pressured, to join the NATO. Russia is vehemently opposed to such membership, considering the security implications. For Russia, considering the recidivist de-Russification in various manners, and based on Europe’s subtle militarisation of Ukraine, Russia wants to completely neutralise Ukraine and remove whatever the country stands for and that makes her attractive to NATO countries. In the absence of any relevant Ukraine, the NATO would have been weakened.

At the second level of Euro-Ukrainian strategy, the support for Ukraine is preventive defence. The EU does not want the extension of the Ukrainian shooting war to come nearer the borders of the EU countries, hence the need to help Ukrainians to fight their battle at home, and to make it more difficult and more costly for Russia to win the war. Besides, there is the need to also ensure the sustenance of cordial ties with Ukraine, considered the most important ally of the EU in the context of the Union’s Eastern Partnerships and the European Neighbourhood Policy. And true enough, the EU and Ukraine have been making efforts to go beyond relationships of partnership to efforts at politico-economic integration. This ultimate objective requires cautionary policies that can prevent much destruction and sustain Ukraine.

At the level of Russo-American and NATO attitude, Russia sees the United States as the most unreliable partner, seeking to impose its hegemony on Russia, but which Russia is not in any way prepared to condone. According to Russia, an agreement was reached with the United States that when the Warsaw Pact would be dismantled, the NATO would similarly be dismantled to put an end to the Cold War instruments. When the Warsaw Pact was set aside, the United States reneged on the agreement. What the United States has been doing instead is broadening the membership of the NATO to include Eastern European countries. Since the United States is considered not reliable, the strategic belief in Russia is that, rather than wait to be cut unawares by US mischiefs, the rule of prevention is better than cure prevails, hence the special military intervention in Ukraine to frontally confront the NATO countries.

However, the NATO countries do not want to have any direct confrontation with Russia. The United States even made it crystal clear that there will not be any single American soldier fighting on Ukrainian soil against Russia. What the United States and its allies have been doing is to strengthen Ukrainian capacity against Russian attacks in various ways, ranging from financial resources and critical sanctions against Russia to provision of significant survivalist assistance.

The European Union has also adopted, at least, five rounds of sanctions. The fifth package of such sanctions, adopted on April 13, 2022, included a ban on imports from Russia of coal and other solid fossil fuels; all Russian vessels from accessing EU ports; deposits to crypto wallets; seafood and liquor; and Russian and Belarussian Road Transport Operators from entering the EU (Vide EU Press Release, 8 April 2022).

At the March 2022 International Donors’ Conference for Ukraine, organised by Poland and Sweden and attended by Mr. Charles Michel, the President of the European Council, three key areas of support were outlined: humanitarian support, short-term liquidity needs, and reconstruction. In this regard, the idea of a Solidarity Trust Fund to support Ukraine was mooted. In the words of Charles Michel, ‘the cornerstone of our Solidarity Trust Fund is precisely the word, “trust.” We trust Ukraine. And our efforts here today reflect this trust. Together we will rebuild a modern, prosperous, and democratic Ukraine, a country of full confidence and ready to embrace its European future and its place in our common European family.’

On April 13, 2022, the Council also accepted to exchange Ukrainian Hryvnia banknotes into EU countries. According to the Council, ‘the schemes would allow displaced persons from Ukraine, including children, to exchange up to 10,000 Hrydnias (about €310) per person. This would be free of charges and at the official exchange rate as published by the National Bank of Ukraine.’ There is also the €3.5 billion given to EU countries as additional pre-financing for hosting Ukrainian refugees. Apart from this, the EU Health Ministers put in place a solidarity mechanism to transport Ukrainian patients, access to vaccination against infectious diseases, especially for children, and mental health initiatives. More importantly, the Health Ministers reaffirmed their commitment to the provision of health to Ukrainians and to Member States on the EU borders that are first in line when it comes to providing medical care for Ukrainian refugees.

The Council of the European Union again adopted on May 6, 2022 a mandate on new rules that enabled the Eurojust to store and preserve evidence related to war crimes, including satellite images, photographs, videos, audio recordings, DNA profiles and finger prints (Eurojust Press, 06 May 2022).

What is noteworthy about the assistance to Ukraine is that two humanitarian exceptions were introduced by the Council: Ukraine Territorial Integrity Regime and the Donetsk and Luhansk Regime. The territorial integrity regime is about restrictive measures concerning actions that undermine or threaten Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. The other regime deals with restrictive measures taken in reaction to the recognition of the non-government-controlled areas of Donetsk and Luhansk oblasts and the ordering of Russian armed forces into those areas (Press Release, 13 April 2022).

It is additionally noteworthy that the protective measures provided for Europeans at the borders with Ukraine do not consider the non-European refugees at the borders. Many were Africans seeking refuge at the border but were ignored. But very ridiculously, the same EU is seeking the understanding and support of Africa for Ukraine and Europe. What a contradiction! Without doubt, the United States is struggling hard to maintain its hegemonic power, using NATO countries as foundation. Russia is seriously challenging the rationale for sustaining US hegemony with the support of China, another main challenger to contend with. On both sides, Africa is quietly being courted for support. The critical interest is no longer the use of Africa as a source of raw materials for the development of Europe, but the critical need to prevent the replacement of Euro-American influence with Sino-Russian influence in Africa. France, for instance, is currently challenged by unexpected hostility in many Francophone African countries. Consequently, Africa must prepare for how the United States and its allies and Russia with China are most likely to engage Africa in the conduct and management of global affairs. In other words, how should Africa respond to the emerging hegemonic powers?