Tensions are scarily on the rise between the West and Russia over the simmering conflict in the east of Ukraine which has claimed more than 13 000 lives since it broke out in 2014, according to a UN report.
America’s Joe Biden administration has pledged its unequivocal support to Ukraine in the event of an all-out war between the two next-door neighbours. In fact, American troops around Europe have had their alert level raised in anticipation of a possible escalation of tension between Moscow and Kiev.
NATO has hinted at the possibility of deploying its troops to Ukraine in defence of its ally. In a chilling warning, Russia said that a serious escalation of tension in the Donbass region, that threatens to blow into open war, could “destroy” Ukraine.
It is quite sad how a promising truce between neighbours is dissipating so rapidly. In 2019, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky scored a resounding victory at the polls which observers believed would ease tensions in the region. Zelensky, a former comedian with a massive TV following at the time, promised an end to conflict in the east of his country where pro-Russian separatists had successfully seceded Crimea from Ukraine.
The West blames the secession on Moscow, claiming that what really happened was “annexation” of Crimea by Russia, a claim the Kremlin flatly rejects.
Trouble really started when a Western-backed uprising in Ukraine resulted in the ousting of the democratically-elected pro-Russian president Viktor Yanukovych in 2014. In response, the Russian-speaking self-governing territory of Crimea held a referendum on secession, and more than 90% of the citizens voted to leave. Since then, Kiev has been battling to win back the territory through a series of military offensives, but to no avail. The US and NATO claim that Russia is fully behind Crimea’s powerful and resilient military.
The truth as things stand is, the Ukraine-Russia face-off has the potential to blow into an international conflict never seen in a long time. The UN need to get more involved than letting NATO choose whether to do battle with Russia. The consequences of such a scenario are too dire to contemplate.
I have previously argued against wars and conflicts and I repeat: In any war there are no winners, everyone loses. Better at all times to attempt to give peace a chance and this is not done through brinkmanship.
In a globalised world, South Africa is massively intertwined to global events. Our country’s foreign policy ought to be our guiding light on how we interact with our global partners. As a member of BRICS, South Africa is presumably closer to fellow ally Russia in the debacle unfolding between Kiev and Moscow.
In the greater scheme of diplomatic relations and Geo-political developments, Russia and China have of late developed closest ties following Washington’s America-first foreign policy initially espoused by former president Donald Trump but nonetheless continued by the Biden administration.
I raise this difficult conundrum in the wake of the looming Ukraine trade mission to South Africa, which is expected to take place within weeks.
Ukrainian ambassador to South Africa, Liubov Abravitova revealed during a recent panel discussion entitled “New Partnership in Times of Pandemic” that SA’s membership of the G20 is very important and its status as Africa’s second largest economy also appealing Kiev’s desire to expand economic interests.
South Africa established its embassy in Ukraine in October 1992 and three years later, in 1995, Kiev reciprocated accordingly. However, the bilateral relations between the two have mostly been lukewarm and ambassador Abravitova’s charm offensive seeks to accentuate the diplomatic relations.
From a distance, therefore, it seems quite clear that Pretoria is playing a fancy diplomatic move that could best be described as “running with the hares and hunting with the hounds”. The danger in international relations theory though is that there are hidden dangers that lurk when a foreign policy is premised on being everything to everyone. Sometimes it is better to choose allies and publicly stand by them rather than to want to dine with allies only in the dark when no one sees you.
President Nelson Mandela was bold enough to stick by Cuba when Washington attempted to keep Havana and Pretoria apart.
A similar posture Mandela adopted when he selected to cement diplomatic ties with mainland China at the expense of Taiwan and stood by the decision that Pretoria supports to this day. In my book that is courage and integrity combined.