6 November 2021

How Russia and America pick sides in civil wars

Lordre: There are signs that Russia and America are taking sides in the conflict in Ethiopia. But who is worse than the other? Throughout the Tigray crisis, Russia has been supportive of the Ethiopian government managing its own internal affairs. On the opposing side, the American State Department maintains a list of condemnations of the same regime's handling of its affairs. The Tigray Region's people have genuine grievances against the government of Ethiopia, and increased autonomy may be the solution. However, with separatist rebels seizing core territories from the central government and threatening to march on the capital Addis Ababa, it is clear that something is not right with what should be a very much local conflict for the rights of a region. While the United States has expressed disapproval of the rebels' advances, it is also clear that the US is no friend of the Ethiopian regime anymore, having applied sanctions against it. As always, the sincerity of US intentions with regard to human rights and their sanctions in response to abuses should be doubted. The US staunchly backs notorious human rights-abusing regimes nearby, such as Israel and Saudi Arabia. One may compare the possible battle for Ethiopia with the far more severe but now frozen conflict in Syria, where the US also placed sanctions on the central government. In Syria, however, the US went a step further and directly armed rebels in the country. This turned out to be a mistake, as the rebels were not really on the brink of victory and were later pushed back by the central government with Russian assistance from 2015 despite receiving their own aid from the United States. Ethiopia may have irritated the US by growing closer to China rather than Russia, but Russia stands out as more vocal and more passionate than its economic powerhouse ally when it comes to war and conflict. Russia, not China, wants its place on modern battlefields with the US, and it seems to want to be on the opposing team to America. Russia’s position on conflicts is usually just the UN’s position By and large, Russian and Chinese positions on foreign policy are not radical or revisionist in nature. In almost every case, Russian and Chinese demands align entirely with the United Nations. Despite the unfavourable coverage of Russian foreign policy in the Western press, it is the United States rather than Russia that more often seems to ignore international law and the consensus of the United Nations. The US routinely declares governments to be illegitimate and announces a new regime, as it did with Venezuela. This is a violation of the norms of international law and undermines any sincere hopes for a rules-based order, which requires not wantonly interfering in other states and instead going to recognised international bodies with one's concerns. One country's government, whether Western or not, cannot simply act as a kingmaker by declaring part of the world under new management, faxing out communiques for the press to reprint obediently and tell everybody the news. China and (with some exceptions) Russia are fierce defenders of international law. They back up regimes not because they like them or approve of their human rights record, but because they are the recognised government and guarantor of stability in a country. In their view, regime change is reckless and irresponsible and promotes chaos, as observed in Iraq and Libya. It is an obligation in international relations that you recognise the sovereignty of another state, even if it is the not the kind of state you would establish yourself. Surely, you might then say, Russia is at a disadvantage to America. Russia is stuck defending old regimes, while America gets to topple them with sanctions and every other tool in its toolbox? Surely, every government in the world will flip gradually to the side of America? This is the thinking that seems to guide aggressive American foreign policy, but the Russians see things differently. Russia, and possibly America too, may not have the resources or requisite influence to overthrow all the world's governments and set up new ones. Russia does tend to go for lower-cost strategies or wait for the other side to become tired, whereas America tends to throw money at problems. All things being considered, the Russian approach seems to be working better. Russia winning allies effortlessly while the US struggles to retain them While America failed to turn Syria into a friendly country despite pouring significant funds and ten years of its time into the effort, Russia won a major ally with very little effort and less time just by shoring up the Syrian regime in its time of need (it even profited from weapons sales and acquired a large military base). While America devises sanctions to pressure its former long-time ally Turkey to do its bidding, Russia simply doesn't do that and therefore is a more appealing partner to Turkey. Russia is able to appeal to America's allies to change sides based on the mere fact that America is so unappealing as an ally. America doesn't want the outcomes other countries want; it wants what America wants and has no tolerance for the interests of others. By just tolerating other regimes and their goals (what has been called a multipolar world in Russian foreign policy advocacy), Russia is able to steadily ally with everyone at very little cost, whereas America has to enter a costly confrontation with each government in the world. While the US may decide to overthrow the government of Ethiopia, and may see Tigrayan rebels as possible servants in a new regime, such a step would not convert more of the world or even this one country to America's cause. The Russians and Chinese are not going to help the Ethiopian government oppress the Tigray Region and create a spectacle for Americans. They will simply pursue a peaceful settlement in the country. Tigrayan fighters, if they really received American backing and were victorious, would eventually just desire a peaceful homeland rather than to act as agents of destruction against some regime, and the Americans would begin to hate them.


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