The “Messy Middle” – The New York Times

If you live in most Western countries, your government’s support for Ukraine, including sending arms and imposing sanctions on Russia, can give the impression of a united global response to Vladimir Putin’s invasion.

But this is not the case. Most of the world’s 195 countries did not send aid to Ukraine or join the sanctions. A handful actively supported Russia. Many more occupy the “messy middle,” as Carisa Nietsche of the Center for a New American Security calls it, taking neither Ukraine nor Russia.

“We live in a bubble, here in the United States and in Europe, where we believe that the very severe moral and geopolitical issues, and the framework of what we see unfolding, is a universal cause,” said Barry Pavel, senior vice president of the Atlantic Council, told me. “In fact, most of the world’s governments are not with us.”

Today’s newsletter offers a guide to some of these countries and explains why they are committed to their positions.

India and Israel are leading democracies that ally with the United States on many issues, especially security. But they also rely on Russia for their security and have avoided arming Ukraine or imposing sanctions on Moscow. “In both cases, the key factor is not ideology but national interests,” says my colleague Max Fisher, who has written about the Russian invasion.

India is the world’s biggest buyer of Russian arms, seeking protection from Pakistan and China. India joined 34 other countries to abstain in a United Nations vote condemning Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, as you can see in the map below. And India appears to be pushing back against Western calls to take a tougher line.

Israel is coordinating with Russia on Iran, its main adversary, and on neighboring Syria (with which Russia has close relations). Russian-speaking emigrants from the former Soviet Union also make up a significant portion of the Israeli electorate. Israel’s prime minister has avoided directly criticizing Putin, and although his government has mediated between Ukraine and Russia, little has been achieved.

Several countries in Latin America, Southeast Asia and Africa have made similar choices. Bolivia, Vietnam and almost half of the 54 African countries refused to support the UN resolution condemning Russia. Some are counting on Russian military aid, said Bruce Jones, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. Others don’t want to risk jeopardizing trade relations with China, which has reproduced Russian propaganda about the war.

These countries “could be more accurately described as selfless,” Max says, not wanting to risk their security or their economy “in the name of a struggle that they consider mostly irrelevant.”

Some countries, citing the history of Western imperialism and its past failures to respect human rights, justified opposing its response to Ukraine. The South African president accused NATO of being responsible for the Russian invasion and his UN ambassador criticized the US invasion of Iraq during a debate last month on the humanitarian crisis in Ukraine .

Other countries, including some that voted to condemn the Russian invasion, accuse the West of acting counterproductively. Brazil’s UN ambassador suggested that arming Ukraine and imposing sanctions on Russia risked escalating the war.

“There’s nothing intellectually incoherent between viewing Russia’s actions as outrageous and not necessarily fully embracing the West’s reaction,” Jones told me.

Autocratic rulers – including in the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Nicaragua – may also feel threatened by Ukraine’s resistance and the West’s portrayal of the invasion as a struggle between democracy and democracy. authoritarianism, experts said. “They fear it could inspire opposition movements in their own country,” Nietsche said.

China, with all its economic and military might, saw the war as a chance to strengthen its own geopolitical position as a counterbalance to the United States while maintaining ties with Russia. The countries recently released a joint statement proclaiming “boundless” friendship. But China has struggled with the delicate balancing act of honoring that pledge without fully endorsing the Russian invasion: Beijing has denounced Western sanctions but does not appear to have given arms or economic aid to Russia.

“China’s support for Russia, while very important, is also carefully covered and measured,” Max said.

Four countries – North Korea, Eritrea, Syria and Belarus – voted squarely with Russia against the UN resolution condemning the invasion of Ukraine. Belarus is a former Soviet state whose autocratic leader asked Putin to help quell protests in 2020 and allowed Russia to launch part of its invasion from Belarus.

Russia has intervened in Syria’s civil war on behalf of the Moscow-aligned government, and Syria is sending fighters who could help Russian forces in Ukraine.

It is not uncommon for countries to avoid choosing sides on major global issues. Several remained neutral during World War II; dozens sought to remain free from American and Soviet influence during the Cold War.

But if the war in Ukraine drags on, Jones said, neutral countries could come under greater international pressure to condemn Moscow. And for countries with close ties to Russia, even neutrality can be an act of courage.

  • The fate of Mariupol in the southeast hinges on a battle at a steel mill, where Ukrainian forces are holding out.

  • Capturing Mariupol would create a land bridge between the Russian stronghold in Crimea and eastern Ukraine.

  • Russian forces fired missiles at Lviv in western Ukraine, killing at least six people. It’s part of a pattern of attacking the cities even as they prepare for an offensive in the east.

  • In Russia, brutal crimes committed by soldiers are rarely investigated or acknowledged, let alone punished.

  • A Ukrainian village is haunted by the disappearance of five men who went to feed the cows.

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Once upon a time, Barnes & Noble was the sworn enemy of independent booksellers across America. Now it’s important to their survival, reports Elizabeth Harris of The Times.

Many book enthusiasts and writers saw the chain as “powerful publishers, gobbling up independent stores,” Elizabeth writes. But in today’s book landscape, disrupted by online sales, Barnes & Noble is helping readers discover new titles and publishers remain invested in physical store distribution, a boon for booksellers of all sizes.

“It would be a disaster if they went bankrupt,” said a literary agent. “There is a real fear that without this chain of books, the printing industry would be far behind.”

Barnes & Noble’s success stems from offering deep discounts on bestsellers and a huge variety of books. Amazon has supersized this formula: it has bigger discounts, it offers a seemingly endless selection of books, and it now sells more than half of physical books in the United States.

What is lost in this process are the accidental discoveries – the books that readers pick up in a store. Such finding in chain bookstores and independent bookstores is crucial for writers who aren’t established names. “The more Amazon’s market share grows, the fewer discoveries there are overall and the fewer new voices are going to be heard,” said the founder of an independent publisher.

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