Situation Report

A weekly digest of national security, defense, and cybersecurity news from Foreign Policy reporters Jack Detsch and Robbie Gramer, formerly Security Brief. Delivered Thursday.

Western Allies Pressure African Countries to Condemn Russia

But too much pressure could backfire.

By , a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy, and , a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy.
People sit around a circular table while Zelensky speaks on a large video screen in the background.
People sit around a circular table while Zelensky speaks on a large video screen in the background.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky addresses the United Nations Security Council via video in New York City on April 5. Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Here’s what’s on tap for the day: Why the United States and Europe are pressuring African countries on Russia, Taiwan faces a backlog of U.S. arms purchases, and Russia begins targeting Ukraine’s defense industry in a new phase of the war. 

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Can the West Rally the Rest Against Putin?

Welcome back to Foreign Policy’s SitRep! Here’s what’s on tap for the day: Why the United States and Europe are pressuring African countries on Russia, Taiwan faces a backlog of U.S. arms purchases, and Russia begins targeting Ukraine’s defense industry in a new phase of the war. 

If you would like to receive Situation Report in your inbox every Thursday, please sign up here.


Can the West Rally the Rest Against Putin?

As the United States and Europe work to isolate Russia on the world stage over its war in Ukraine, they’re hitting a wall in Africa, where some countries are reluctant to criticize Russian President Vladimir Putin or sign on to sanctions against Moscow. 

U.S. and European officials are stepping up efforts to change that as the conflict drags on, apparently turning into a war of attrition. This makes sustaining Russia’s international political and economic isolation all the more important in the eyes of Ukraine’s government, as well as Washington and its European allies.

Policymakers are grappling with the same diplomatic frustrations with other countries that have closer historical ties to Russia and aren’t diving into the full-fledged Western pressure campaign against Moscow (namely, India and China). 

Under pressure. European diplomats are reportedly pressuring African Union members to take a stand in support of Ukraine, while top U.S. diplomats such as Victoria Nuland, the undersecretary of state for political affairs, have publicly urged African countries not to allow Russia to use them to evade U.S. and European sanctions. 

It’s unclear how much headway they’ll make. In a vote at the United Nations condemning Russia’s invasion in early March, 28 African countries supported the resolution, while 17 of the 35 countries that abstained were African. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has twice asked the AU for permission to give an address and make his case directly to African leaders—but so far the bloc hasn’t given any indication that it will schedule a speech for Zelensky. 

Sit on the sidelines? “You cannot stand on the sidelines and watch the aggression that we see taking place in Ukraine and say you’re going to be neutral about it,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in an interview in March when asked about some African countries seeking to stay neutral over the war. 

The neutrality has left some Ukrainian and European diplomats in Africa exasperated and publicly criticizing their host governments for not taking Ukraine’s side.

“To support Russia is to support lies over principle and authoritarianism over democracy, and to be on the wrong side of history and morality,” Liubov Abravitova, Ukraine’s ambassador to South Africa, wrote in an op-ed last month for South Africa’s Daily Maverick newspaper. (South Africa is one of the countries that abstained from the U.N. vote condemning Russia’s invasion.)

Diplomatic blowback. But a public pressure campaign by Washington and European countries could end up backfiring, especially if it takes on a “with us or against us” tone. Such pressure has already revived discussions in African policymaking circles about bringing back the Cold War-era nonaligned movement to avoid being dragged into a new era of confrontation between the West and Russia. 

“If President Zelenskyy wants to address the African Union, he will need to avoid the simplistic hectoring that characterises Western governments,” Ovigwe Eguegu, a geopolitical analyst, wrote in a recent op-ed for the Africa Report

Western countries, namely France, have already begun hemorrhaging popular support from some African countries, particularly in the Sahel region, for backing brittle autocratic regimes in the name of counterterrorism cooperation and sidestepping human rights and democracy priorities.

It also didn’t help Ukraine’s case when reports emerged early in the war of African students in the country being subjected to racism and harassment while trying to flee the conflict.

Africa remains one of the largest importers of Russian, as well as Ukrainian, food staples and a major importer of Russian energy. Moscow has worked to expand its military footprint and geopolitical clout across the continent, often with disastrous results for civilian populations, even as its military struggles to make any headway in its offensives in Ukraine. 


The Surge

Keep up each week with who’s rising and falling (and falling and falling) in the struggle for political relevance. Sign up for The Surge from Slate, written by senior politics writer Jim Newell.


Let’s Get Personnel

The State Department has tapped agriculturalist Cary Fowler as the U.S. special envoy for global food security, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said in a statement on Thursday. 


On the Button 

What should be high on your radar, if it isn’t already.

Sticker shock. Taiwan’s defense ministry said on Thursday that it will abandon a plan to buy new U.S. anti-submarine warfare helicopters after deeming the aircraft too expensive. Taiwan already faces a major backlog of pending U.S. weapons purchases—including Stinger anti-aircraft missiles and Javelin anti-tank missiles bound for Ukraine—that have built up since 2019. 

Bad men in Bucha. Reuters has identified some of the Russian perpetrators of the massacres in the Ukrainian city of Bucha, which invading troops occupied for more than a month. Among the suspected war criminals are members of Russia’s elite Vityaz security force, under the command of Viktor Zolotov, a former Putin bodyguard.

Chechen troops and members of Russia’s 76th Guards Air Assault Division are also among those identified in documents left behind and by more than 90 residents who spoke to reporters for this story. 

Target acquired. Russia’s massive missile barrage against a railway junction in western Ukraine that serves as a transshipment point for U.S. and European weapons coming into the besieged country is an increasing sign of the Kremlin’s intensifying attacks against Ukraine’s defense industrial base, as we reported this week.

A Ukrainian official told Foreign Policy that attacks damaging or destroying Kyiv’s anti-ship missile factory, the Malyshev tank factory in Kharkiv, and other facilities have left Ukraine in even more dire need of Western weapons. 


Snapshot 

A boy looks out a shattered window in a car.
A boy looks out a shattered window in a car.

A boy looks out through the smashed windscreen of his family’s car after arriving at an evacuation point for people fleeing Mariupol, Melitopol, and the surrounding towns under Russian control in Zaporizhzhia, Ukraine, on May 2.Chris McGrath/Getty Images


From the Vault

China hawks take off. Trump-endorsed Senate candidate J.D. Vance won a resounding victory in Ohio’s Republican primary on Tuesday, giving the party a chance to win a majority in the upper house of Congress with a big China trade hawk as a leading voice in the freshman caucus.

Jack looked into Vance back in November, someone whom former Trump administration officials see as a voice that can intellectualize the former president’s anti-China rhetoric and impulses.

“What these guys are doing is they’re taking impulses, and they’re making the intellectual case for them, and they’re putting a respectable kind of gloss on it,” as one former U.S. official put it. Vance, a former Trump critic who has now wholeheartedly embraced The Donald, will take on Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan in the Senate race this fall. 


Put On Your Radar

Sunday, May 8: The U.S.-led Defender Europe military exercise in Eastern Europe is set to kick off with more than 3,200 U.S. and another 5,800 troops from 11 allied countries. 

Monday, May 9: Russian President Vladimir Putin celebrates the Soviet Union’s (slightly belated) World War II victory over Germany with a parade in Moscow. Ukrainian and Western officials are expecting more provocations in Ukraine as Russia commemorates its anniversary. 


Quote of the week

“The worst thing the Russians did was give us eight years to prepare.” 

U.S. Brig. Gen. Joseph E. Hilbert of the 7th Army Training Command reiterating what Ukrainian troops training with U.S. forces have told him. 


Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Random fun fact. The Japanese game maker Nintendo was founded in 1889. There was a 33-year period when both Nintendo and the Ottoman Empire coexisted.

War bounty. Didn’t get your hands on those “Russian warship” stamps being sold in Ukraine? No problem. Lviv’s municipal art center is now selling Warhol-esque stickers of arrested Putin ally Viktor Medvedchuk.

Robbie Gramer is a diplomacy and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @RobbieGramer

Jack Detsch is a Pentagon and national security reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @JackDetsch

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