The annual summit of the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) opened on Tuesday, August 22, in the afternoon in Johannesburg, at the city’s conference center, with several countries applying for integration.
Vladimir Putin, who was physically absent from the summit, addressed the position of Russia through a video message, just over a month after Moscow withdrew from the agreement on the export of Ukrainian cereals. He is the notable absentee from this meeting, the first since the Covid-19 pandemic.
Vladimir Putin is not present in South Africa for this 15th Brics summit due to a warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC). This non-attendance avoids a delicate situation for Pretoria, as South Africa, as a member of the ICC, would theoretically have had to arrest the Kremlin leader.
However, as planned, the Russian president still expressed his views through a message at the opening of the summit. He spoke as he usually does to the Russian population: via video, sitting at his desk. And while Russia has ended the agreement on cereals and Russian and Turkish presidents have not yet spoken to each other, Vladimir Putin reiterated his position on the subject.
“Russia,” he said, “is deliberately hindered in the supply of cereals and fertilizers abroad. And at the same time, we are hypocritically accused of being responsible for the current crisis situation in the world market. This is clearly shown in the implementation of the so-called agreement on cereals, concluded with the participation of the UN Secretariat.”
“None of the terms of the so-called agreement regarding the lifting of sanctions on Russian exports of cereals and fertilizers to world markets has been implemented, according to the President of the Russian Federation. Russia’s requests in this regard have simply been ignored, even obstructed. The free transfer of mineral fertilizers has been blocked at European ports.”
Given the aforementioned facts, since July 18, we have refused to further extend this so-called agreement. We are ready to return to it, but we will only come back if all obligations to the Russian side are effectively fulfilled.
The main thing, for Vladimir Putin, was to remind everyone that Russia remains a full member of the organization and to emphasize its position on the sanctions imposed following its actions in Ukraine. He reiterated that they are “illegal” and have “serious consequences on the global economy.”
Mr. Putin wants to demonstrate that even from a distance, he is not alone. He emphasizes the weight of the Brics, with its majority of the global population, increasing investments, and rising purchasing power. For him, this is a block that is fully capable of rivaling the G7, an organization from which Russia was excluded in 2014 after the annexation of Crimea.
“The dynamism of the Brics economies is a driving force.” The representatives of the five countries also discussed economic matters during the assembly, as the Brics Business Forum was set to conclude on Tuesday evening, as explained by Claire Bargelès, our special envoy to Johannesburg. Brazilian President Lula emphasized the dynamism that a block like Brics represents for the future. “Since the first summit of Heads of State and Government, our share in the global economy has continued to increase,” he recalled. According to forecasts, emerging and developing markets will experience the most growth in the coming years.
“According to the International Monetary Fund, while industrialized countries are expected to go from a growth of 2.7% in 2022 to 1.4% in 2024, developing countries are expected to have a growth of 4% over the same period,” Lula anticipates. This shows that the dynamism of the global South and the Brics economies is a driving force.
Multilaterally, the Brics want to distinguish themselves by being a force that works for a more just, predictable, and equitable global trade. Brazil is returning to Africa. It should never have left. This summit is an invitation to other countries in the South to get closer to the block and its orbit, and the leaders gathered in Johannesburg did not hesitate to emphasize this, inviting everyone to listen to their vision of the world.
Some have officially applied, such as Algeria or Ethiopia. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also sees it in India’s interest, as he believes that his country will soon become the locomotive of global growth, while the meeting on Tuesday is being attended by many African representatives. Note that while the idea of a common currency is no longer mentioned among the Brics, the bloc pushes for more and more exchanges between them to be conducted in local currencies, in a broad process of “de-dollarization” that Vladimir Putin welcomes.
Finally, Chinese President Xi Jinping was not present at the conference center stage on Tuesday. He was represented by his Minister of Commerce, who warned against the risk of a new Cold War. However, he appeared earlier in the day in Pretoria during his state visit to his South African counterpart Cyril Ramaphosa.
At the end of the day, the Brics leaders retired to a luxury residence in the city for closed-door discussions. Wednesday’s discussions are expected to focus on the summit’s key topic: the question of possible expansion of the organization and entry criteria. Pro-Ukraine protesters make themselves heard in Johannesburg. In South Africa, voices are rising to call on the participants of the 15th Brics summit to reconsider their position, reports our special envoy to Johannesburg, Nicolas Falez, who met with protesters in the city on Tuesday.
“My sign says ‘no to Putin’s imperialism,'” explains a South African who is angry at her government for claiming neutrality in the Russian invasion of Ukraine, citing the words of Desmond Tutu, a key figure in the struggle against apartheid: “If you remain neutral in a situation, you have chosen the side of the oppressor. And our government says it is neutral.
As a South African, I find that deplorable, especially considering what our country has experienced in the past,” she denounces. Lesya is a member of the small Ukrainian community in South Africa. She too would like Russia to be under pressure from its Brics partners.
She is pleased with Vladimir Putin’s absence: “It’s a big victory for us. It shows that justice exists. I think Putin was afraid to come, or that the South African government asked him not to come to avoid the awkward situation of having to enforce the arrest warrant.”