As news organizations around the world followed the Wagner Group’s mutiny in Russia on June 24, the United States and Ukraine held a meeting on the war in Copenhagen with a group of regional powers—including Brazil, India, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, and Turkey. Before the meeting, U.S. National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said he’d push for greater support for Kyiv. The other states in attendance had yet to impose sanctions on Moscow or provide military aid to Ukraine—apart from Turkey, which had sold it some drones.

Yet the neutrality of these countries is actually the most common approach to the war outside the West, despite 141 UN member states voting last year to reprimand Russia for its invasion. The list of capitals sanctioning Russia or arming Ukraine includes none from Africa, one from the Middle East, one from Central and South America, and three from Asia. Altogether, these countries represent two-thirds of the global population. Why are they staying non-aligned?

Richard Gowan is the UN director for the international nonprofit Crisis Group. For Gowan, it’s a question with a lot of different answers, depending on where you look. The incentives of non-Western states vary by country and region, and they’ve changed over the course of the war. Some non-Western leaders maintain a historical resentment of Western colonialism, for example, or a more contemporary opposition to sanctions as a tool of diplomacy. But more broadly, as Gowan sees it, these countries are hedging for strategic reasons—to pursue specific foreign-policy goals or to manage critical uncertainties, like where U.S.-China competition is going or who’ll win next year’s American presidential election. More broadly still, they’re hedging against the uncertainty of a changing international order—which could end up either distributing power widely around the world or dividing it in a new Cold War between Washington and Beijing.

Michael Bluhm: How do you interpret the non-alignment of the majority of the world’s countries?

Richard Gowan: There’s a consensus now that this is hedging behavior—but despite how widespread it is, it’s striking that there isn’t a single set of explanations for it.

For example, even China, which seems very close to Russia, is walking a fine line—solidifying its relationship with Moscow without throwing in its lot with Russia altogether. China’s interest here is in gaining leverage over Russia.

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