fb-pixelNo, it’s not the world against Russia. In fact, it’s far from it. Why a lot of nations aren’t on board with economic sanctions. - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

No, it’s not the world against Russia. In fact, it’s far from it. Why a lot of nations aren’t on board with economic sanctions.

Russian President Vladimir Putin.Mikhail Klimentyev/Associated Press

The world, it seemed, changed the moment Russia invaded Ukraine about three weeks ago. The assault galvanized most of the world’s largest economies. With one economic sanction after another, it was Russia against the West. And Japan. And Australia.

But, possibly lost in all the headlines is that it is not the entire world against Russia. In fact, most of three huge continents – Asia, Africa, and South America – are either still working with Russia or trying to project the image of neutrality.

This neutral position is the reason not even all of North America is on board in applying tough economic pressure on Russia in the wake of their unprovoked attack on Ukraine.


While Mexico did vote in favor of a United Nations resolution condemning the invasion and calling for Russia to immediately withdraw, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador announced last week that his nation wouldn’t go along with economic sanctions that nations like the United States were imposing.

“We are not going to take any sort of economic reprisal because we want to have good relations with all the governments in the world,” said López Obrador during the announcement.

In so doing, Mexico joins Central American and South American nations as big as Brazil and Argentina in not joining in on the sanctions.

Across the ocean, no country in Africa, including South Africa, has joined in the call to make Russia an outlier in global relations. Some if this has to do with Russian military ties to certain nations, or the fact that some African nations don’t feel the need to wade into European relations after centuries of European imperialism and colonization.

Then again, a lot of this has to do with China. Soon to be the largest economy in the world, China has made a number of infrastructure investments in Africa, giving them powerful influence over some of these nations.


Much has been written about China’s complicated stance as it relates to Russia. While China and Russia took steps to grow closer before the Ukrainian invasion, China has taken a non-committal position during the war so far, though their state media have basically parroted the Russian narrative.

The Chinese fence-sitting may also be the key reason why other Asian nations are not committing to get behind Western sanctions. For example, the Chinese influence over Pakistan is so strong that its leader, who makes the point to defend Muslim communities all over the world, is silent when it comes to Chinese genocide against a Muslim minority in a Western province.

This, in effect, may have convinced Pakistan’s biggest rival, India, to also play it safe on Russian sanctions. Or it could be that India wants to take advantage of the situation and buy Russian oil on the cheap if no one else is buying it.

India and United States relations have grown warmer since the Obama administration, largely as a way to curb China. But the US is noticing India’s close ties to Russia, including attempts to set up more trading avenues with Russia last month and buying Russian weapon systems in the past few years. Indeed, India could be a flashpoint soon if the United States goes through with sanctions against it in their attempt to get more nations to pick a side. India, it should be noted, would prefer not to pick sides. They want both the United States and Russia to contain China in the region.


In fact, the United States should be aware that no ally, no matter how close, should be automatically counted on to just go along with sanctions. For example, it took weeks for Israel to announce that it will refuse to be a place where Russian oligarchs can go around Western sanctions.

Possibly the most complicated place to watch is the greater Middle East. The United States is trying to convince oil-rich countries to sell more crude and natural gas to Europe as a replacement for Russian oil and gas. This could be a boon to these nations but at the same time, some have grown closer to China in the recent decade.

Amid all of that is an Iranian nuclear deal that might be back on, if Russia — of all places — signs off.

In a twist, Russia now has more sanctions on it than another nation, surpassing, you guessed it, Iran.

James Pindell can be reached at james.pindell@globe.com. Follow him @jamespindell and on Instagram @jameswpindell.