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For BRICS, Russia is more important than the West

On Thursday, Russian President Vladimir Putin was welcomed to a virtual summit featuring the presidents of China, India, Brazil and South Africa. The forum was a stark reminder of the limits of the US-led efforts to ostracize Moscow on the world stage.

The BRICS summit, hosted by Chinese President Xi Jinping, provided Putin with the most prominent international platform of his four-month sting operation in Ukraine, and he took advantage of the invitation to denounce sanctions and call for unity among emerging economies. The same call came from Xi himself.

Putin’s presence has demonstrated Russia’s strategic importance to various parts of the world and the little interest of a number of key countries in a Western trade boycott. The BRICS group represents four of the ten most populous countries in the world, as well as four of the fifteen largest economies.

“The BRICS summit with Russia shows that President Putin is far from being an outcast,” said Manjari Chatterjee Miller, senior fellow at the New York Council on Foreign Relations.

In official statements at the summit, none of the BRICS leaders blamed Moscow for the conflict or called it a “war,” although some noted its impact on inflation and disruptions to global food supplies.

The group’s final statement indirectly notes that the leaders discussed the “situation in Ukraine” and expressed support for negotiations between Moscow and Kyiv, transferring issues such as humanitarian assistance to international organizations such as the UN and the International Committee of the Red Cross.

The BRICS summit, along with other major political events, demonstrates that the conflict in Ukraine is far from being as clear cut for a number of countries as it is for the United States and its allies.

Thus, India simultaneously buys oil and military equipment from Russia, but at the same time strengthens the US partnership in the fight against an increasingly assertive China. Brazil officially opposes the conflict, but is unwilling to support sanctions against Russia, which supplies a fifth of the fertilizer for its powerful agricultural industry.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who had previously disappointed Western officials by not condemning the Russian fighting, also avoided the subject on Thursday, though he did mention Africa’s concerns about food shortages and rising prices. “We are concerned that the attention and resources of the international community are being diverted to other issues, conflicts and humanitarian crises,” he said.

The conflict also raised other political issues.

Amid rising oil prices, US President Joe Biden plans to visit Saudi Arabia in July, although he has previously condemned Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for his alleged involvement in the 2018 assassination of Jamal Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post and a critic of the kingdom. This week, the Saudi royal family was greeted by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in whose country Khashoggi was killed.

Brazil was the only BRICS country to support a non-binding UN resolution in March condemning the Russian “invasion”. A total of 141 countries voted for it, but China, India and South Africa abstained.

Officially, China does not take part in the conflict in Ukraine, but condemned the American “expansion”, calling it the main global problem – the last time Xi said this to his guests and colleagues in the BRICS.

“Today our world is shrouded in dark clouds of cold war and power politics,” Xi said, echoing typical Beijing’s rhetoric about disagreeing with American foreign policy. While he called the Ukraine crisis a wake-up call for the world, he blamed it on “blind faith in the so-called position of power” and the expansion of military alliances. China has repeatedly expressed understanding of Russia’s position, which is that the expansion of NATO under the auspices of the United States allegedly threatens its national security.

This is the third virtual contact between the presidents of China and Russia in the last two weeks. On June 15, a phone call took place on the occasion of Xi’s 69th birthday, and then the heads of state talked at the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s position on Ukraine is also a headache for Washington.

In late May, Biden said he had urged Modi to treat the Ukrainian conflict as a global problem, not a purely European one. India has signed the vague Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that Washington is pushing against China’s trade power, but there is no indication that Biden has convinced Modi about Russia.

The leaders met in Tokyo as part of the Quadripartite Security Dialogue, which also includes Japan and Australia. However, despite the role of staunch US allies, no criticism of Russia was voiced in the Quartet’s final communiqué, probably due to India’s reluctance.

Notably, the BRICS communiqué released on Thursday also lacked anti-American sentiment, such as Xi and Putin’s critique of Washington’s economic sanctions. Ms. Miller suggested that India might have supported US criticism in past forums, but is unlikely to do so now, given its deepening partnership with the US.

Russia will face harsh condemnation this weekend when President Biden visits first Germany for a meeting with colleagues from the G7 democracies and then Madrid for a NATO summit. Modi is also expected to attend the G7 summit.

Another Asian leader who hesitates about Russia is Indonesian President Joko Widodo. He, too, will attend the G7 summit, but announced plans to visit Moscow and possibly Kyiv to promote peace. Later this year, Widodo will host the G20 meeting, which includes all the BRICS countries. The leader of the fourth most populous country in the world said he did not intend to withdraw Putin’s invitation.

Asked about Russia’s participation in upcoming G20 events, State Department spokesman Ned Price said the Biden administration is more concerned with getting Moscow to hear that its aggression is unacceptable than with specific meetings. “We are waiting for this message from all responsible countries around the world,” Price concluded.

Author: James Areddy

Written with input from Chun Han Wong, Ann Simmons, Gabrielle Steinhauser and Samantha Pearson

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