BRICS leaders skirt the war in Ukraine, throw shade at Western sanctions against Russia

BRICS leaders skirt the war in Ukraine, throw shade at Western sanctions against Russia
President Cyril Ramaphosa leads South Africa’s participation in the virtual 14th BRICS Leaders’ Summit hosted by the People’s Republic of China from 23 to 24 June 2022. (Photo: GCIS / Jarius Mmutle)

The word ‘Ukraine’ was not publicly mentioned once in the 14th summit on Thursday of the BRICS bloc, which comprises Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping alluded to Ukraine obliquely only by criticising Western sanctions imposed on Russia because of its war against its neighbour.

Xi hosted the summit virtually, presumably because his government is still pursuing a strict Covid lockdown policy. This effectively silenced Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as a technical glitch prevented the other four leaders and the public from hearing his opening remarks.

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa also alluded to the war in Ukraine only glancingly, when he said: “In line with our foreign policy principles, South Africa continues to call for dialogue and negotiation towards a peaceful resolution of conflicts around the world.” 

As usual in South Africa’s pronouncements on the war, Ramaphosa’s implication seemed to be that this was a war of equals – morally and militarily – which could be resolved by parley, rather than an unprovoked aggression by a much larger state, Russia, against a much smaller state, as most observers believe.

Ramaphosa also implicitly reiterated South Africa’s “whataboutism”, as Western diplomats like to call it, by suggesting that excess focus on Ukraine had neglected other conflicts and challenges. 

“We are concerned that the focus and resources of the international community have been diverted from other concerning conflicts and humanitarian crises,” he said. 

“Urgent global issues like climate change and sustainable development are not being effectively attended to.” 

And Ramaphosa repeated another South African bromide – that the United Nations should be democraticised to better deal with challenges and conflicts 

Putin alluded to the war more directly, though not by name, in blaming the ramifications of the conflict on Western sanctions. 

He said the BRICS countries should seek joint solutions to the threats and challenges which the international community faced, including the crisis in the global economy caused by “the ill-conceived and self-interested acts by certain states that have been using financial mechanisms, shirking their own mistakes and blaming these on other states”. 

“Now I’m convinced that BRICS leadership is relevant in order to design a truly positive uniting, unifying force to form a multipolar system of intergovernmental relations based on the universal rules of international law and the key principles of the UN Charter. 

“For this we can count on the support of many states of Asia and Latin America that strive to pursue an independent foreign policy.”

Xi took a similar line. He said the global economic recovery was “tortuous” while global peace and security had become “more salient problems”.

The world stood at a crucial moment and the BRICS countries had a responsibility to maintain order. 

“We must abandon Cold War mentality and block confrontation and oppose unilateral sanctions and the abuse of sanctions.” 

Xi added that forging an international community “like a big family is so much better than exclusive circles that practice hegemony”, which was presumably an allusion to the Western alliance supporting Ukraine against Russian aggression.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro did not seem to refer to the war in Ukraine even obliquely and, as mentioned, if Modi did, no one would have known, unless they could lip-read.

Ramaphosa also reiterated his frequent call on developed economies, international agencies and philanthropists that procure vaccines to purchase them from manufacturers in developing economies, including in Africa. 

This was a reference to the fact that the South African company, Aspen Pharma, has been unable to sell any of the J&J Covid vaccines it has been manufacturing under licence in Gqeberha – despite global support in principle for Africa to become more self-sufficient in vaccine production. 

“It is a cause for great concern that the rest of the global community has not sustained the principles of solidarity and cooperation when it comes to equitable access to vaccines,” he said.

Marcos Troyjo, president of the Shanghai-based New Development Bank (NDB) – which the five BRICS members established in 2015 – told the leaders that the NDB had approved over $30-billion for infrastructure and sustainable development in more than 80 projects in the member states to date.

These projects had mainly expanded transportation networks, reduced CO2 emissions and provided more clean energy and water supplies. He noted that last year, Bangladesh, the UAE, Egypt and Uruguay became NDB members, adding 280 million people who could benefit from NDB loans. 

“We will go on adding new members to the NDB in a gradual and balanced manner. This will increase our voice and our contribution to global economic governance,” he said. 

Troyjo said that over the next five years, the NDB expected to approve a further $30-billion in new projects.

“We will increase our financing in local currencies. We will expand our partnership with the private sector. And 40% of the projects we support will go to climate change mitigation and adaptation. 

“We must help shape the future of multilateral finance. Our new strategy powers the NDB to deal with new development paradigms. Building the NDB as a premier development bank for emerging economies. That’s our goal.”

Meanwhile, South Africa lagged behind its four BRICS partners in implementing the decisions taken at the last summit, in September 2021, according to the Canadian BRICS Research Group and the Russian Centre for International Institutions Research.

They said this week that the BRICS members overall had achieved 80% compliance with 20 key commitments of the total of 73 commitments they had made last year. 

China led with 93% compliance, followed by Russia at 83%, India at 80%, Brazil at 75% and South Africa at 68%.

The two institutions said the over 80% compliance rate had been notably higher than the 72% score at both the 2020 Moscow summit and the 2019 Brasilia summit. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Beyond Fedup says:

    Nothing but an incestuous and treacherous bunch of wayward idiots. Surprised at India and Brazil as they certainly don’t fit into the mould of despicable and brutal scumbag dictators of Russia and China. As for the cowardly and arse-licking Ramaphosa, what more can one say about this immoral, hypocritical and pathetic poor excuse of a leader – a wanna- be Putin/Xi. The sooner SA dumps the ANC and it’s obnoxious leaders, the better for the country.

  • Pete Farlam says:

    As long as Russia is part of BRICS (and together with China it is the strongest member) it is difficult to see how this organisation helps SA in any way. Putin’s Russia is irredeemably tainted by its immoral and disastrous war in Ukraine, and any co-operation between SA and Putin’s Russia further damages South Africa.

Please peer review 3 community comments before your comment can be posted

A South African Hero: You

There’s a 99.7% chance that this isn’t for you. Only 0.3% of our readers have responded to this call for action.

Those 0.3% of our readers are our hidden heroes, who are fuelling our work and impacting the lives of every South African in doing so. They’re the people who contribute to keep Daily Maverick free for all, including you.

The equation is quite simple: the more members we have, the more reporting and investigations we can do, and the greater the impact on the country.

Be part of that 0.3%. Be a Maverick. Be a Maverick Insider.

Support Daily Maverick→
Payment options

MavericKids vol 3

How can a child learn to read if they don't have a book?

81% of South African children aged 10 can't read for meaning. You can help by pre-ordering a copy of MavericKids.

For every copy sold we will donate a copy to Gift of The Givers for children in need of reading support.