MUNICH – When the US president Joe Biden made a surprise appearance in Kyiv this morning (20 February) and said “America stands with you and the world stands with you”, he was reiterating the sentiment made robustly apparent at the Munich Security Conference in the days before. Well, partially.
The conference ran from 17-19 February and was well attended by Western decision-makers, including Biden’s vice-president Kamala Harris, France’s Emmanuel Macron, Germany’s Olaf Scholz and Rishi Sunak. Also in attendance were nearly 50 US politicians – a mix of Democrats and Republicans – from across the House and Senate, all of whom were voraciously supportive of Ukraine. The Republican Senate minority leader Mitch McConnell even made a point of telling various attendees and the media that too much attention had been paid to the small but vocal faction in his Republican Party who have questioned how long the US should continue aiding Kyiv’s war effort.
The message, both in Munich from American lawmakers and in Kyiv from Biden directly, is clear: political divisions aside, the US is united in its support for Volodymyr Zelensky and for Ukraine. In this, it aligns with leaders across the West. (Unlike previous years, no officials from the Russian government were invited.)
Yet, it was also clear in Munich that the second part of Biden’s statement in Kyiv – that the world is also standing behind Ukraine – isn’t totally true. While Western decision-makers are largely united behind Zelensky, many leaders in the Global South, from Latin America to Africa, have opted for neutrality.
Though the Global South didn’t have a prominent presence at the Munich Security Conference, it was made clear that the studied neutrality adopted by many outside the West isn’t eroding. Those countries view the war in Ukraine as a European problem, not a global one. They would like to see the war come to an end, of course, but through immediate peace negotiations, even if that means one side (Ukraine) makes uncomfortable compromises.
Biden’s visit to Kyiv on Monday matters, as does the bipartisan support of Ukraine in the US and across the West. But pledges of unequivocal support won’t be materialising from every region of the world anytime soon.
This article first appeared in the World Review newsletter. It comes out every Monday; subscribe here.
[See also: Is Putin dead?]