The internal divisions in the BRICS

Image: Diana Smykova
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By ANDREW KORYBKO*

How South Africa ruined the prospect of its engagement with Russia

South Africa announced last week that the president Vladimir Putin will participate in next month's BRICS Summit virtually instead of in person, as initially planned. Spokesperson for President Cyril Ramaphosa confirmed later that the decision was taken due to “Pretoria's legal obligations under the Rome Statute”, after the ICC issued an arrest warrant against the Russian leader. There is therefore no basis for speculating that there was another reason, like many in the alternative media community have stated on social media.

If there was any credible threat to President Vladimir Putin's life en route to or while in that country, then the Kremlin would have informed the international community of this in order to raise awareness of speculation of a Western plot to assassinate him and, thus, to disqualify this block in fact from the new cold war. Russia previously revealed that dismantled a terrorist cell who intended to assassinate the head of RT, Margarita Simonyan, therefore, it would not make sense to cover up an alleged much larger conspiracy related to President Vladimir Putin.

The other explanation being floated by the alternative media community, that the Russian leader is too busy running the special operation to travel abroad, is belied by the fact that he has been to Central Asia and Iran in the last year, despite of the situation on the battlefield being much more serious at that time. It is important to demystify these conspiracy theories so that people are not tricked into agreeing with the mainstream media that it is a good thing he is not going to South Africa next month.

"Alternative media needs to stop overdosing on 'copiumto finally recognize reality”, advice that can be applied in this context by simply realizing that the latest announcement is a setback, but without falling into the traditional media trap of embracing “pessimistic and melancholic” narratives after this disappointment. The BRICS will continue to gradually accelerate financial multipolarity processes, parallel to the fact that their members and the States partners in their expanded network rely more on national currencies in their bilateral trade.

However, there are still some lessons to be learned from South Africa's soft power fiasco after ruining the prospect of its engagement with Russia within the BRICS. International pressure was immediately brought to bear on the host country to disinvite President Vladimir Putin after news emerged of his ICC arrest warrant earlier this spring. What Pretoria should have done was remain calm, refuse the media circus around the next summit and discuss everything frankly with the bloc behind closed doors.

This would have kept up appearances for all parties involved and facilitated the possibility of fully transferring the event to an online format without the need for any explanation. Mainstream media would have continued to speculate that this was due to the ICC arrest warrant, but nothing would have been confirmed in this scenario, thus preserving the integrity of the host country and that of the BRICS as a whole. Instead, both were demoralized after the media circus made the subtle implementation of this alternative plan impossible.

Last week, "South Africa's vice president opened up about his country's BRICS-ICC dilemma”, which, in hindsight, was very undiplomatic given what it revealed. In a desperate effort to generate sympathy for the plight of his country, Paul Mashatile selfishly shed light on some of the bloc's internal divisions. In particular, he said that Brazil and India were opposed to moving the summit to China, also stating that only India was receptive to the idea of ​​a purely online format this year.

As “politically inconvenient” as it may be for some in the alternative media community to admit, both things can be true. Brazil e India are trying to strike a balance between the West and the Global South, which would have been more difficult to do with regard to the first claim, had they agreed to transfer the summit to China after South Africa got carried away by the media circus that surrounded her. However, if South Africa had remained discreet about its political calculations, those two countries might have been more comfortable with this situation.

As for Paul Mashatile's second statement, the same observation is valid with regard to his country's undiplomatic behavior in making such a possibility unfeasible. Earlier this month, India hosted the annual Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit virtually, after announcing its decision to hold it at the end of May without any explanation, but likely due to discomfort to receive Chinese President Xi Jinping in the midst of rising Sino-Indian tensions. Refusing to indulge in speculation about its calculations, India has helped all parties to keep up appearances.

The event was successful after all have reached an agreement on the outlines of the emerging world order, but this probably would not have happened if India had behaved undiplomatically in the run-up to the event. Although South Africa had already made many soft power mistakes before India announced its decision to virtually host the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit without explanation, it could have learned from the example set by its BRICS partner by failing to speak of his political calculations to save the integrity of the group.

If that had happened, perhaps there would still have been political space to hold this year's BRICS summit online as well, without its members feeling uncomfortable, but all of them are supposedly opposed to this, with the exception of India, precisely because South Africa has already he had gone too far, giving himself up to the media circus. They could not have maintained the appearance that this plan stemmed from reasons other than Western pressure, hence they did not want to tarnish their multipolar reputation by sharing the blame.

India had already moved the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit online, so it would not have been shameful to support South Africa to do the same, but Russia and China would certainly have hinted that they were covering up capitulation. of South Africa in the face of Western pressure if they had agreed, which is why they allegedly did not. This perception leads directly to Wednesday's scandalous announcement, which could have been avoided if South Africa had behaved diplomatically and not been carried away by the media circus that surrounded this event.

Had Pretoria kept its cool in public and discussed everything openly with the bloc behind closed doors, it would have been possible to move the BRICS summit to China this year or to hold it entirely online, as India had just successfully done with the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. As far as the first alternative plan is concerned, Brazil's and India's geopolitical balancing actions would not have been jeopardized, as South Africa could come up with a plausible pretext, although Sino-Indian tensions could remain an issue for Delhi.

As for the second, a similar pretext could have been used in this scenario, in order not to give the impression that Russia and China were helping to cover up the capitulation of a BRICS member to the West, instead of standing firm against the pressure West, as its supporters hope they always will. Regrettably, neither of the two alternative plans came to fruition, as South Africa has ruined the prospect of its engagement with Russia within the BRICS, whose culprit is none other than itself, regardless of what the alternative media community claims.

*Andrew Korybko holds a master's degree in International Relations from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations. Book author Hybrid Wars: From Color Revolutions to Coups (popular expression).

Translation: Fernando Lima das Neves.

Originally published on author's newsletter.


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