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President Putin’s brutality exposes BRICS bloc for what it really is


Natale Labia writes on the economy and finance. Partner and chief economist of a global investment firm, he writes in his personal capacity. MBA from Università Bocconi. Supports Juventus.

This economic grouping is simply a snub to the Western notion of a multilateral, rules-based, liberal order based on democracy.

Amidst all the remarkable events of last week, one stands out. It is that when Yevgeny Prigozhin’s jet exploded and plunged from the air, crashing northwest of Moscow, Russian President Vladimir Putin just happened to be remotely addressing the BRICS Summit in Johannesburg. 

We can be sure that this was not a coincidence, because we all know who was behind the killing. Even Prigozhin himself, back in April, spoke of being killed and specifically mentioned that Putin would make “the plane fall apart in the air”.

In an interview with The Financial Times in August, Christo Grozev, the founder of the whistle-blower organisation Bellingcat, predicted it too. “Putin went on TV and called Prigozhin a traitor. Everyone knows what they do with ‘traitors’ … within six months [Prigozhin] will be dead.” Even without formal confirmation from the wreckage, US officials are working on the assumption that the plane was brought down on the orders of Putin.

If indeed this was not a coincidence, then what was the message the Russian president wanted to convey to all those gathered in Johannesburg and watching around the world? As news of this brutal act of revenge spread to the Sandton restaurants and bars where delegates were gathering over expensive whiskies and steaks, what did he want them all to know?

First, he wanted the world to be reminded of who he is and that he is never going to change. As the author of Red Notice, Bill Browder, has warned for many years, Russia under Putin is simply a gangster state, with Putin the ultimate mobster boss. Like any mobster, he runs his rent extraction machine through mutually beneficial relationships with a coterie of subservient gangster warlords who depend on him more than he depends on them. 

Prigozhin was the most notorious of these lieutenants. All his power derived from being close to the boss. From this power he was allowed to build the Wagner mercenary empire across Africa and amass vast wealth. But in return for this, Putin demanded absolute loyalty. As soon as Prighozin broke this and betrayed Putin those months ago in his ill-fated march on Moscow, his days were numbered.

Indeed, by choosing this moment to enact revenge on his once-trusted consigliere, Putin removed his mask. He is no more than a gangster, albeit an unimaginably powerful one. His farcical televised “tribute” to the murdered Wagnerites could have been lifted straight from the pages of The Godfather

The second message was perhaps directed more specifically to those listening to his bizarre address at the summit. He wanted to remind them that they needed him just as much as Prigozhin did. He sells them weapons and cut-price oil and gas. He provides mercenaries when needed. More critically for some parties such as the ANC, he even funds them, as he has done through other loyalists such as Viktor Vekselberg. BRICS is simply a platform on which to expand the influence and scale of his extractive machinery and to provide a veneer of respectability on his shameful, bloody, vengeful empire.

Finally, Putin, in this extraordinary act of choreography, exposed what BRICS is all about. He was simply making the point that you are all no better than me. Let us stop the charade of any supposed economic benefits. Clearly, these are an illusion. South Africa’s trade deficit with China has increased since it joined BRICS in 2010. 

Rather, this grouping is simply a snub to the Western notion of a multilateral, rules-based, liberal order based on democracy. As Tim Cohen has written in Daily Maverick, “South Africa is now part of an organisation that essentially does not even vaguely have democracy as its guiding light.” Just as Putin murders wantonly, so do Saudi journalists end up chopped up in embassy basements in Istanbul, as does China imprison and torture more than a million Uyghurs in Xinjiang. 

As in the early 20th century when Europe divided itself along the Triple Alliance and the Triple Entente, which led to it tearing itself apart in the bloodiest war the world had ever seen, the world is now dividing itself into two groupings. 

One is led by the US, Nato and the West, and is comprised of democracies which, at least domestically, respect human rights and the rule of law. Members of the other group, with China at its centre, are largely autocracies that have scant respect for human rights and are desperate to unshackle themselves from the lecturing and posturing of the ageing, fading, complacent Old World. This is not to say the West is any better; in fact, it has been far more brazenly hypocritical. Rather, BRICS is a response to the duplicity of Guantanamo Bay, the abandonment of Gaddafi, the blatant and callous betrayal of the entire Afghan nation.

But let us be clear. Any mutterings from BRICS about the desire to uphold a multilateral world order, after last Wednesday, are false. How can any country be serious about a rules-based international order in an alliance with a man who murders a traitorous mercenary while addressing that very conference?

SA has chosen on which side of history it sees its future. Like Prigozhin, on this it will live or die. We can only hope it has fully considered its options. DM


Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Ben Harper says:

    Yet the number of South Africans that exhalt and worship Putin as if he’s the new messiah is astounding, then again the brainless anc and eff minions still go around calling each other comrade

  • John Laurence Laurence says:

    Spot on. Those idiots in the ANC are too blind to see the Mafia state that Russia has become under the murderous Putin. In fact I think they admire his Godfather like status and wish to emulate it.

  • Gerrit Roos says:

    As I agree China Saudi Russia all run by dictatorship. Atrocious human rights abuses. The west is run by unelected beurocrats. Which inpose draconian laws on their people politically weponize state departments. Rebuke religious freedom and the right to free speech. Lock up protesters for years without trial, arrest pastors for disagreeing with abortion ect ect and so forth.
    The ANC well nothing good to say about that absolutely nothing. So much more to say about exporting inflation high interest rates and debauchery. No good choises here just a lesser evil

    • Rod H MacLeod says:

      I’m concerned that since DM has been blitzed by Russian hackers, a good few “new” contributors to this comment section appear to be nothing more than trolls. “The west is run by unelected beurocrats. Which inpose draconian laws on their people politically weponize state departments” is a comment in point.

  • Leslie Stelfox says:

    BRICS stands for Brutal, Repressive, Indecent, Corrupt States.
    I would say the ANC has chosen the side of history it wants to be on, rather than the country as a whole. However, if the ANC wins a majority in the elections next year, then the majority has chosen that side too. I suppose the majority, further impoverished under ANC rule, also want their turn at the feeding trough!

  • Jill Tyson Tyson says:

    The world is a massive mess, good people unit against the gangsters and crazies on all sides.

  • Richard Owen says:

    SA is meant to arrest Putin for crimes against humanity, but instead, he is given a place at the top table, just as his lieutenant Prigozhin is assassinated.
    There has to be at least some strand of morality in BRICS. If there is none, then there is no value in it..

  • Louis Potgieter says:

    Putin doesn’t speak for the BRICs.
    I view the BRICs as a gathering revolution. Yes, the revolutionistas aren’t pretty, but that is what you get.
    I think the attention should rather be on the revolution.

  • John Kayser says:

    Christo Grozev did not found Bellingcat. It was founded in 2014 by Eliot Higgins. It grew out of his blog-spot when he was challenged to fact-check the Syrian conflict in 2012, which he did using open-source material (now known as OSINT). I think Grozev joined Bellingcat in 2016 (needs to be confirmed).

    Getting basic facts wrong undermines the credibility of the Daily Maverick and the writer. I have been an Insider member since early 2020, and whereas the Maverick’s reporting on SA events and issues is very good, its coverage of international issues is/has generally been inaccurate and lacking in insight.

    • Natale Labia says:

      Thanks for the correction, and apologies for the mistake. We try our best to get everything 100% but unfortunately a few things fall through the cracks. Will edit it to “ lead Russia investigator” not founder. Hope this mistake didn’t ruin the entire piece.

  • Scott Gordon says:

    Ahem ! Why did JZ just need Russian medical attention ?
    We had a deal says Vlad . Come for education .
    Nice Dacha on the Steppes , family will live , maybe !
    If we are not getting Russian oil at a discount , why not ? Or are we ?
    @ 10 / barrel would bolster ANC funds !

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