The question is rather what the interests and capacities of Russia are with respect to particular world regions. And from this point of view, the war in Ukraine, first, made Russia much more interested in maintaining relations with the Global South, and second, reduced Russia’s capacities and limited its attention span (now, Russia’s entire foreign policy seems to be dominated by the Ukraine war). Against this backdrop, working with Russia is considered quite doable.
Moreover, some countries in the Global South embrace the strategy of what one could call “political arbitrage” – positioning themselves as valued intermediaries between the West and Russia, or at least, as a target for and a beneficiary of competition between the West and Russia, with each side trying to bring these countries over to its side.
For Russia’s immediate neighbors, maneuvering between Moscow and the West appears to be the only feasible choice: it is much less risky and much more beneficial than taking a side. The leaders of these countries over time seem to be growing more and more skilled in this maneuvering. A case in point is Kazakhstan: on September 28, 2023, its president reassured
the German chancellor that his country was going to implement sanctions against Russia, while the next day he stated
that Kazakhstan was going to develop trade relations with Russia. For more distant countries, meanwhile, the benefits of political arbitrage could also be substantial, while the risks of alienating Russia are, of course, much smaller.
Finally, in the eyes of the Global South, Western countries (especially the US) also do not necessarily enjoy high credibility. They hardly have a track record of never starting wars on questionable grounds and never exploiting their dominance for their benefit. To name just a few things that reduce the trustworthiness of the West: its colonial past; CIA backing for Operation Condor
in Latin America in 1975-83; the US invasion to Iraq in 2003; and Germany’s justification of bombing Yugoslavia in 1999 because of the so-called Operation Horseshoe
plan of the Belgrade regime, which most likely never existing. This makes the global isolation of Russia less likely and the arguments of Western diplomats and politicians less convincing.
As in economic relations, politically the key actor that can isolate Russia and limit its attractiveness in the eyes of the Global South is Russia itself. By exiting the grain deal (see Russia.Post
about it here
), Russia damaged its reputation in the eyes of African countries to an extent no effort of the West could have achieved. Similar decisions in the future could turn out to be very costly for Moscow.Russia on the path to self-isolation?
Summing up, both economic logic (the benefits of arbitrage) and political factors (Russia not being perceived as a particularly untrustworthy partner) make the isolation of Russia unlikely. Pragmatism on the part of governments in the Global South and their economic actors will help Russia to remain part of the global web of political and economic relations. Western efforts to isolate Russia are unlikely to change that.
What can, however, have a significant effect on Russia’s position in the world economy and politics is decisions of the Russian government itself. By destabilizing its own economy or making costly errors in its relations with countries in the Global South, Moscow could find itself on a path to self-isolation. There is no certainty that will happen. However, one lesson that can definitely be drawn from the war in Ukraine is that the ability of Putin’s regime to make mistakes with serious repercussions should not be underestimated.