When the world gets closer.

We help you see farther.

Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter.

Already a subscriber? Log in .

You've reached your limit of one free article.

Get unlimited access to Worldcrunch

You can cancel anytime .


Exclusive International news coverage

Ad-free experience NEW

Weekly digital Magazine NEW

9 daily & weekly Newsletters

Access to Worldcrunch archives

Free trial

30-days free access, then $2.90
per month.

Annual Access BEST VALUE

$19.90 per year, save $14.90 compared to monthly billing.save $14.90.

Subscribe to Worldcrunch

Our 'Emotional' Divide: How The Ukraine War Reveals A World Broken In Two

Russia's invasion has created a stark global divide: them and us. On one side are the countries refusing to condemn Moscow, with the West on the other. It's a dangerous split that could have repercussions far into the future.

A woman holding a peace fo Ukraine trial for russia sign during a protest in London

Protesters against the war in Ukraine demonstrate in front of the Russian embassy in London

Dominique Moïsi


PARIS — "The West and the Rest of Us." That's the title of a 1975 essay written by Nigerian essayist and critic Chinweizu Ibekwe. I've been thinking about his words as the war in Ukraine both reveals and accelerates divisions of the world that I believe are ultimately "emotional" in nature.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

With war returning to Europe and the risk of escalation, there is a gap between the Western view and that of the "others," a distinct "us and them." This gap cannot be explained in strictly geographical, political, and economic terms.

Of course, the Finns and Swedes feel as though they are in the Russian bear's sights, and see no other choice than to join NATO. Putin will thus have transformed the Baltic Sea into an Atlantic security lake. But beyond the objective realities, there is an emotional impact.

"Never again" — the key to European identity

If the British are the ones in Europe who feel the closest to Ukraine, it is perhaps because the images of the Kyiv subway remind them of the images of people sheltering in the London subway during World War II. In the British collective memory, the resistance of the Ukrainians against an enemy more powerful than them, brings them back more than 80 years to the glory of their "finest hour."

This revival of the past, while glorious for the British, is also unsettling for the European subconscious. Did we not see "never again" as the key to European identity, the most spectacular example being the Franco-German reconciliation? The war was for the "others." This was only fair after the fall of Europe between 1914 and 1945. History chose other targets who were elsewhere, far from us.

Of course, beyond illiberal Hungary, the European far-right and far-left have some sympathy for Putin's Russia through a mixture of anti-liberalism, anti-Americanism, and anti-capitalism. But essentially, Russia stands very much isolated in the Western world.

To the extent that, according to a confession made by someone close to the master of the Kremlin to a BBC journalist in Moscow, "Putin himself regrets the escalation since Feb. 24.”

Close to home

Yet, Russia is not completely isolated. The 40 or so countries that refused to condemn Moscow's actions during the vote at the United Nations General Assembly represent around 53% of the world's population.

When in Brazil, former president Lula, candidate for the next presidential election, made sweeping statements denouncing the primary responsibility of the United States in the Ukrainian crisis. "The U.S. and the E.U. could have avoided the invasion by stating that Ukraine would not join NATO," he said, expressing a view widely shared in a continent that still has resentment towards "gringos".

In an interview with the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra, Pope Francis, also Argentine, expressed a very similar view.

On the African continent, some people “understand” Russia. A position that is mainly due to the perception and denunciation of the selective nature of the emotions of the "white man."

Distinction between attacker and attacked in Ukraine is very nice, but who ever cared about Africa?

The war that has been tearing Ethiopia apart for a year and a half has caused many more victims, led to the forced displacements of populations, and created famines that cannot be compared to what is happening in Ukraine. But the fate of the Ethiopians has left a majority of Europeans and even more Americans indifferent.

The African continent wants us to understand that it is also ready to bring out the scars and resentments of the colonial era.

Of course, most African countries do not necessarily support the Russian invasion. But they are not ready to go against their economic or military interests to defend international law in Europe. Everything happens as if Africa wanted to convey that this distinction between attacker and attacked in Ukraine is all very nice; but who cares, because who has ever cared about the African people for themselves and not for economic or strategic reasons?

People holding a Russian flag during a celebration of Russian victory on May 9 in Munich

Pro-Russians celebrating May 9th in Munich

Sachelle Babbar/ZUMA Press Wire

Ambiguous positions

In the Middle East, the situation is different because it is a region where Russia — protector of Orthodox holy places — has been involved for centuries. Caution towards Moscow has a less emotional side, even if the tragic humanitarian situation in Yemen, widely ignored by the Western world, again evokes double standards.

Beyond Bashar al-Assad's Syria, many countries in the region are "playing" with Russia or simply counting on its weaponry or diplomatic support to balance or compensate for America's gradual withdrawal. Israel's position seems intentionally ambiguous.

In Asia, apart from the two giants China and India, both supporting Moscow in their own way, not clearly condemning Russia means reaffirming its distance from America and the Western world as a whole. Japan, the Asian West, is almost a special case (besides Australia and New Zealand) in its unwavering support for Ukraine.

West v. the Rest

Russia, unlike the USSR, cannot claim it has a project to improve the world. In any case, authoritarian regimes, whether in Africa, Latin America, the Middle East or Asia, know that Moscow will not blame them for their human rights practices. And hasn't America, from Iraq to Afghanistan, proved that it is possible to commit countless crimes in the name of democracy?

The paradox of this world' s emotional divorce is that the countries that are going to suffer the most, especially in terms of food, are the ones being most understanding towards Moscow. A major challenge, like global warming, should bring us all together. But on the emotional level, it is more than ever "us and them" and "them and us."

You've reached your limit of free articles.

To read the full story, start your free trial today.

Get unlimited access. Cancel anytime.

Exclusive coverage from the world's top sources, in English for the first time.

Insights from the widest range of perspectives, languages and countries.

FOCUS: Russia-Ukraine War

How Vulnerable Are The Russians In Crimea?

Ukraine has stepped up attacks on the occupied Crimean peninsula, and Russia is doing all within its power to deny how vulnerable it has become.

Photograph of the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters with smoke rising above it after a Ukrainian missile strike.

September 22, 2023, Sevastopol, Crimea, Russia: Smoke rises over the Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters after a Ukrainian missile strike.

Kyrylo Danylchenko

This article was updated Sept. 26, 2023 at 6:00 p.m.

Russian authorities are making a concerted effort to downplay and even deny the recent missile strikes in Russia-occupied Crimea.

Stay up-to-date with the latest on the Russia-Ukraine war, with our exclusive international coverage.

Sign up to our free daily newsletter.

Media coverage in Russia of these events has been intentionally subdued, with top military spokesperson Igor Konashenkov offering no response to an attack on Russian Black Sea Fleet headquarters in the Crimean city of Sevastopol, or the alleged downing last week of Russian Su-24 aircraft by Ukrainian Air Defense.

The response from this and other strikes on the Crimean peninsula and surrounding waters of the Black Sea has alternated between complete silence and propagating falsehoods. One notable example of the latter was the claim that the Russian headquarters building of the Black Sea fleet that was hit Friday was empty and that the multiple explosions were mere routine training exercises.

Ukraine claimed on Monday that the attack killed Admiral Viktor Sokolov, the commander of Russia's Black Sea Fleet. "After the strike on the headquarters of the Russian Black Sea Fleet, 34 officers died, including the commander of the Russian Black Sea Fleet. Another 105 occupiers were wounded. The headquarters building cannot be restored," the Ukrainian special forces said via Telegram.

But Sokolov was seen on state television on Tuesday, just one day after Ukraine claimed he'd been killed. The Russian Defense Ministry released footage of the admiral partaking in a video conference with top admirals and chiefs, including Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, though there was no verification of the date of the event.

Moscow has been similarly obtuse following other reports of missiles strikes this month on Crimea. Russian authorities have declared that all missiles have been intercepted by a submarine and a structure called "VDK Minsk", which itself was severely damaged following a Ukrainian airstrike on Sept. 13. The Russians likewise dismissed reports of a fire at the headquarters of the Black Sea Fleet, attributing it to a mundane explosion caused by swamp gas.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has refrained from commenting on the military situation in Crimea and elsewhere, continuing to repeat that everything is “proceeding as planned.”

Why is Crimea such a touchy topic? And why is it proving to be so hard to defend?

Keep reading...Show less

The latest