The Ukraine war has entered its third year. Whatever else it may or may not be, it has most definitely been a “war of narratives”. It has also been an “information war”. It is said that words matter, but the world received a crash course in diplomatic lexicon in the aftermath of the “War”.

Some called it a “Special Military Operation”. Others called it quite simply a “War of Putin’s choice”, an “unprovoked military aggression” and still others chose to use the word “conflict” to describe the events that unfolded on 24 February 2022.

In Western media headlines, the Russian military action in Ukraine eclipsed the catastrophe that had engulfed Afghanistan six months earlier. There was outrage, indignation and a strong sense of the “world” being wronged on every cannon of international law.

The reaction was, in a sense, a reminder to the world where power rested and what mattered. There was no space for the countless number of innocent people who were being killed in fratricidal conflicts in different parts of the world.

India woke up, late, but nevertheless fearlessly, to voice the feelings of the “rest of the world” - the Global South. India sought to press the pause button on western hysteria and the self consuming East-West conflict to say that this was not the end of history.

There were other real problems, equally existential and explosive, that were hurting the vast majority of countries. Their voices were being drowned out. The “South” was yet again becoming collateral damage of major power rivalry. India asserted that this was not the era of a weak and helpless post-colonial world.

The fact that developing countries came together to emphasise the destabilising nature of the conflict and the effect on their core development agenda has emerged as fundamental an aspect of today’s geopolitics as the invasion itself.

The nuances in global reactions to the war have been lost in the high decibel official reaction from western capitals and accompanying media coverage. These have been marked by intolerance for dissent, half-truths and vilification. Western media commentary on Ukraine has been as definitive and self-righteous in its analysis as its coverage was of Saddam Hussein’s weapons of mass destruction and links with al Qaeda.

A closer look at global reactions shows that the world beyond the immediate sides has not bought into the “cancel Russia” project, or the line that US/NATO actions had no role to play in what Russia did.

The world is not prepared to get divided once again between the West and the rest or into rival blocs. This is evident in national positions as it is in voting patterns in the United Nations. The Voice of the Global South Summit during India’s G20 Presidency was the high point of the South’s assertion of strategic autonomy.

The most populous democracies1 in the world in addition to India – Indonesia, South Africa, Brazil, Mexico and Argentina – have refused to side with NATO. Almost all countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America have voiced discomfort, if not opposition, to unilateral sanctions against Russia. Those who have complied, in varying degrees, are close friends of the West or its allies.

Dissonance In The UN

An analysis of the main UN resolutions since February 2022 shows the complexity of world opinion and how countries have steered their way through the diplomatic labyrinth, juggling national positions, their bilateral relationships with the parties to the conflict, their values and interests. Voting patterns indicate that Russia could not be isolated, at least within the UN.

The very first Resolution condemning the Russian aggression against Ukraine on March 2, 2022, when both tempers and emotions were running high, was adopted by a vote of 141 in favour to 5 against (Belarus, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, Eritrea, Russian Federation, and Syria). Yet it was the 35 abstentions that attracted global attention.

These were systemically significant countries. They included India, South Africa, Mexico and China, apart from Russia’s neighbours in Central Asia. The number of votes in favour could not go beyond 141 even a year later, when a similar Resolution was introduced in February 2023 to mark the first anniversary of the war.

Voting on the Resolution calling for Russia’s suspension from the Human Rights Council in April 2022 was even more divided. While the Resolution received a two-thirds majority of those present and voting, numbering 93, the fact also was that as many as 58 countries abstained. The abstentions were not the “rogue gallery” of international politics.

They included India, Brazil, South Africa, Mexico, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Qatar, Kuwait, Iraq, Pakistan, Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Cambodia. 24 countries voted against the move. Thus, if 93 countries had voted to oust Russia from the Human Rights Council, 82 countries did not.

International opinion was further divided on the November 2022 UN General Assembly calling on Russia to pay war reparations. 94 countries supported the Resolution but 73 abstained, including Brazil, India and South Africa, and 14 voted against.

As past record shows, numbers in the General Assembly do not really serve either as a barometer of international support to an issue or isolation or of a country’s international standing. For decades, similar resolutions in which the vast membership have voted overwhelmingly against Israel have neither solved the Arab-Israeli dispute nor led to Israel’s isolation.

To quote a recent example, in December 2023, 151 countries voted against Israel on a Resolution demanding “immediate humanitarian ceasefire” in Gaza but this and many earlier resolutions have not made any significant impact on how countries have conducted their bilateral relations with Israel. The world has dealt with Israel regardless of the rights and wrongs.

This Is Not An Era of War

No comment sums up the global reaction better than the comment made by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi to President Vladimir Putin at the SCO summit in Samarkand in September 2022. The comment was welcomed on both sides of the aisle.

India has abstained on resolutions in the UN Security Council and UN General Assembly against Russia except the one which argued against targeting civilians. In South Asia, countries were evenly divided, with four supporting the Resolution of 23rd February 2023 upholding the principles of the UN charter underlying a just and lasting peace in Ukraine (Afghanistan, Bhutan, the Maldives, and Nepal) and four abstaining (Bangladesh, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka).

The Battle Between Democracy And Autocracy

Comments by President Biden within a month of the outbreak of the conflict in March 2022 in Poland framing the Ukraine War as the battle between democracy and autocracy were short lived in their currency. The world refused to see the conflict in binary terms. The characterisation had to be tempered and then withdrawn in the light of global pushback and even opposition from within the US political system.

Mainstream Republican Presidential candidates have questioned the US Administration’s Ukraine strategy. Today, the US Administration is faced with a moral crisis in dealing with Israel's retribution in Gaza after the October 7 terror attacks by Hamas.


The world’s reaction to the Ukraine conflict has been more nuanced and less monochromatic than what has been portrayed by mainstream media. Absolutist interpretations of the principles of international law have coexisted with regional and national reactions that have been specific to circumstances of individual countries.

The West has been able to weaponize normal inter-state activities, but it has not been able to demonise Russia in the eyes of the world. The “global street” has not bought into the “you are with us or against us” framework that it was subjected to during the Cold War. In addition, the Afghanistan crisis, and many others, were pushed out of the headlines and double standards in western media coverage to Israel’s response to the October 7 terrorist attack by Hamas are all evident.

The position India took on the Ukraine conflict is today gaining support. The conflict has to wind down with a return to diplomacy and dialogue.

This article has originally published n NatStrat, an independent, not-for-profit centre for research on strategic and security issues. *Pankaj Saran, former deputy national security adviser to Indian prime minister Narendra Modi and former Indian high commissioner in Bangladesh