Chinese President Xi Jinping, Indian PM Narendra Modi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brazilian President Michel Temer and Russian President Vladimir Putin
Author: Alex Petriashvili, Senior Fellow at Rondeli Foundation
The new geopolitical season opened at the end of August with the BRICS (an organization that unites Brazil, Russia, India, China, and the Republic of South Africa) summit, the interest in which was heightened months earlier by the issue of the attendance/absence of Vladimir Putin, with South Africa being a member of the Rome Statute and therefore obliged to execute the arrest warrant issued for Vladimir Putin by the International Criminal Court. Although (in my opinion and not only) Putin did not intend to go to Johannesburg to participate in the summit anyway, some inconvenience was created, first of all for the leadership of the Republic of South Africa. In short, it was finally decided that Sergey Lavrov would attend the summit in Putin’s stead. The general (family) photo was quite spoiled by the Minister of Foreign Affairs next to the four country leaders, but there really was no other solution for the BRICS team.
The summit garnered attention for a multitude of issues and decisions made. In particular, it was decided that from January 2024, BRICS will expand, and Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates will become members. Brazilian President Lula lobbied Argentina, and South African leader Cyril Ramaphosa – Egypt and Ethiopia, but it is more interesting that historical rivals Iran and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia agreed to appear in one union. According to experts and analysts, the union’s expansion and transformation into BRICS+ is a signal that the organization is becoming stronger, and a counterbalance platform to the United States of America and Europe. However, we should not forget that its old members – India and China – are at odds with each other, and it is unlikely that they will join forces to weaken the US global leadership. Despite the cooled relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the USA, it is still difficult to imagine Riyadh cooperating with Tehran against the interests of the USA, and, regardless, the actual normalization of relations between them is unrealistic in the foreseeable future. In addition, it is necessary to take into account the fact that every new member will bring new opinions and positions. Consequently, making a decision or even agreeing on a final declaration will become ever more difficult.
One of the main focuses at the summit was the introduction of a potential single currency for BRICS+, however, the solution to this issue is still unclear, and at this stage the preference is given to trade in national currencies, which is another (in my opinion unpromising) attempt to reduce dependence on the dollar. As in the India-Russia trade deal, India also plans to buy Saudi oil in rupees. However, even Sergey Lavrov openly stated during his visit to India in May that there are some problems with India trading in rupees, which the Indian leadership is aware of. As such, it is still too early to say that the above countries will be able to weaken the dollar and reduce their dependence on it.
Another interesting moment – Indonesian President Joko Widodo was invited to the summit and participated as an observer. Recall that Indonesia has the fourth largest population in Southeast Asia and one of the fastest growing economies in the Global South. Therefore, its accession is very much in the interests of BRICS+ members. It seems that Indonesia is not in a hurry to join the union yet, though, and will only observe how the integration process of other new members unfolds.
To summarize: Enlargement always leads to additional interest and various speculations, however, it is wrong to automatically sum up the economic indicators of current member states and those joining from the coming January, and to draw conclusions based on that. Further, it is still (and will continue to be) very unclear who will have the most influence in the decision-making process. It is unlikely that BRICS+ will become an area of influence of China and Russia and a tool in the global confrontation-competition with the USA.
Naturally, the center of attention was also the summit of the G20, held in New Delhi. Although Putin was not at all restricted by any international norms, he still did not go to the Indian capital. It is significant that Chinese leader Xi Jinping did not participate in the summit either, while President Biden and the leaders of the other top economies were present. In 2023, mid-term elections are planned in India, and in 2024 – general parliamentary elections. Therefore, in terms of coverage, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi made the most of the summit to benefit his election campaign. The two-day meeting focused on two main events:
- The final declaration of the summit – forecasts were quite skeptical that the member states would be able to reach an agreement on Ukraine, as different positions were openly voiced within the G20. Russia’s position during the negotiations was particularly rigid, although there was a significant difference between the positions of the US and European countries on the one hand, and India, China, Brazil, and Turkey on the other. Despite skeptical expectations, an agreement was reached. In my opinion, the reasons for the agreement should be sought in the important news discussed in the next paragraph. One way or another, though, Paragraph 8 of the New Delhi declaration regarding the war in Ukraine states that: “All countries must fully respect the purposes and principles of the UN Charter; All countries, in accordance with the Charter, must refrain from creating a threat to the independence, territorial integrity, and sovereignty of another country and use of force; The use or the threat of use of nuclear weapons is totally unacceptable.” This text would definitely not be acceptable to Ukraine and is very similar to previous statements and initiatives belonging to India, China, and Brazil.
- The second news indeed caused intrigue – the United States of America, India, the European Union, France, Germany, Italy, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates signed a memorandum of understanding, creating a new transport corridor: The India-Middle East – Europe Economic Corridor (IMEC). The corridor will have two branches, and with the participation of Israel and Jordan, along with the aforementioned countries, cargo transportation will significantly increase through the creation of railway infrastructure and the use of existing ports. In addition, it is planned to develop electrical and digital networks, as well as construct a hydrogen pipeline for the development and use of clean energy. Of course, this project was immediately baptized as a counterweight to China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Incidentally, in October, a summit is planned to celebrate the 10th anniversary of the aforementioned project, and Putin has confirmed his attendance. On the way, he will visit his friend and partner North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un.
At the 78th session of the UN General Assembly held in New York, attention was focused on the President of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky. Naturally, US President Joe Biden had important messages, while President Zelensky appeared after him and spoke about the threats to the civilized world from Russia and the importance of unity in support of Ukraine. President Biden also stressed that any talk on negotiations now is wrong, and the US will continue to support Ukraine in its fight against Russia.
Among the bilateral and multilateral meetings held in the format of the UN General Assembly, the meeting of the US President with the leaders of the Central Asian countries was significant. In the spring, the leader of the Chinese Communist Party met the Central Asian 5 for the first time. Here, too, the contours of the struggle for influence in the region are clearly visible, although it should be noted that China has been involved much longer and is doing much more to pursue its interests in Central Asia. The US will need to make a serious effort to overcome this backlog.
After New York, the President of Ukraine went once again to the US capital. President Zelensky’s visit to Washington was accompanied by a less emotional thread than his visit of the previous year. Meetings with legislators in Congress, then in the White House, with large American investment funds, and a visit to the Pentagon, also brought concrete results. Although the transfer of long-range ATACMs missiles was not announced, President Zelensky said in a conversation with the media that the issue of ATACMs will be resolved in the same way as the F-16s. Also, according to President Zelensky, the agreement reached with the US on the joint production of anti-aircraft defense systems in Ukraine is historic and will take the Ukrainian military industry to a completely new level.
The noisy statement from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, blaming the representatives of Indian official agencies for the killing of the Sikh leader in the Canadian city of Vancouver, ended this month-long epopee of summits. The US special services shared additional information on this matter with their Canadian colleagues, and President Biden personally spoke with the Prime Minister of India.
While the issue of democracy was not on the agenda at the BRICS summit, it certainly does not mean that the democratic community will turn a blind eye to such high-profile murders and gross violations of human rights. However, the implementation of the India-Middle East-Europe economic corridor involves countries whose leaders are accused of murdering a journalist, of usurping judicial power, and of other types of violations in terms of protection of fundamental freedoms.
In conclusion: the struggle for global influence is still in an active phase, and in the near future we should expect tangible steps to be taken by regional and other types of organizations, although we should avoid the expectation that the world will become multipolar anytime soon. At least three superpowers are necessary for this to happen, but so far, taking into account economic and military potential, as well as global influences, there are only two such powers to create poles, and between whom the main rivalry unfolds: the United States of America and China, a kind of status quo that is set to remain in the near and medium term.