Thailand voted with 141 other nations on Wednesday to reprimand Russia for invading Ukraine and demanded that Moscow withdraw its forces. Thailand’s vote was uncertain until the green light appeared on the big board in the UN General Assembly. In light of the Thai government’s declaration of “neutrality” in the Russian-Ukrainian conflict, and the Foreign Minister’s public statement yesterday that Thailand will be cautious, a vote to abstain would not have been surprising. 35 nations, including China and India, abstained. Actually, every ASEAN nation except Vietnam voted for the UN motion in support of Ukraine.
The UN General Assembly special session and the 141 to 5 vote is a sign of how seriously the world is taking the Russian invasion of its neighbor. Europe feels threatened. The European Commission (Parliament) voted on Wednesday to work toward granting Ukraine “candidate status” to join the European Union. Ukraine’s President, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, gave an emotional speech to the Parliament asking for proof from Europe “that you will not let us go … that you are with us.”
Neither of these votes, historic as they are, will cause Russia to pause in its attacks across Ukraine. The military advance continues, and bombs, rockets and artillery barrages are slowly but steadily moving toward the center of the country. It’s taking time; Ukraine is a bit over 600,000 square kilometers (Thailand is 500,000+ sq. km.). Ukraine has a formidable military capacity, but Russia’s is much larger and includes nuclear weapons which Russian President Putin put on “heightened alert” 3 days ago. Ukraine will fight alone, with USA and EU supplying funds and material support including weapons. Nevertheless, Russia seems determined and able to take over Ukraine.
Holding onto it is another matter. The world has learned in the last 7 days since the invasion began that the Ukrainian people are stalwart. They will not easily yield as Putin expected them to do. Quite the contrary, the invasion has solidified the nation. Even if Russia takes over the country it will clearly not be taking over the people. Resistance will erode Russia’s ability to control what they acquire by force. Indeed, back in Russia the Russian people consider the Ukrainians to be kinfolk and are never going to swallow the idea that they are aliens to be conquered. As it becomes clear to them that this aggression is against the people of Ukraine and not just against the government and military, Russians will grow chilly about what Putin is doing. His standing as president will weaken. The question is only how fast this will happen and how far it will go.
For Europe the first fact about what’s going on is that one nation (Russia) has unilaterally invaded another (Ukraine). The issue is national sovereignty, the right of a nation to exist and decide on its own alliances and policies. That is what has alarmed and united Europe. The post-Cold War peace has been shattered. Finland may now join NATO – an action Russia has vowed to prevent. Germany has sent weapons to Ukraine – an action not done to forces in combat in 70 years. Poland has reopened its borders to half a million refugees from Ukraine – as have all the other countries surrounding Ukraine to which refugees, now more than a million in number, have fled. For Europe, the threat of the loss of natural gas and oil from Russia is less frightening than the prospect of what Russia will do next if it succeeds in Ukraine.
For Thailand and many other countries the first fact about what’s going on is the destabilization of the world economic systems. Thailand is concerned about trade and tourism above all. Russia’s military poses no threat to Thailand. Loss of commerce is just short of terrifying.
China and India, however, are not as concerned about that as they are about what’s happening to Russia. They want Russia to be a viable balance of power with USA as they try to develop their own growth and influence. It is alarming to them that what Russia is doing is counter-productive: it is unifying the world against Russia and reducing Russia’s potency. In stark terms, most of Asia would like to have this war quickly over so everybody can get back to trying to survive COVID and make money. The humanitarian and geo-political implications of the war in Ukraine are not being ignored here in Asia, but overwhelming opinion is in favor of limiting this to what is going on between Ukraine and Russia and letting the West fight it out.
Thailand wants to hope that Russian tourists and expats will keep on bringing money into Pattaya and beyond, but the Russian Ruble has lost 30% of its value this week and due to what’s going on about Ukraine Thailand’s export growth is now predicted to be 0% for the second quarter of this year. Thailand’s economic condition is serious. The fact that the West and USA have chosen to battle Russia with economic sanctions is inconvenient.
First COVID and now this.
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Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.