by Andrew Korybko
The mainstream media is fawning over the G7 leaders and their latest summit, relishing in the fact that Russia was expectedly excluded. They’ve decided to overplay the ‘cool’ factor of the event by emphasizing how all the leaders are casually ‘ hanging out ’, making it seem as though Putin missed a friendly campfire with his pals and not one of the most pro-Western meetings of the year. Although there are some who regret Russia’s absence, those adherents are likely overlooking the comparatively larger and more important summits that the country will host next month. The BRICS and SCO summits will be held back-to-back in Ufa at the beginning of July, and they’ll bring together the most important movers and shakers of today’s world. When compared with the G7, one can clearly see the differentiation between the multipolar and unipolar world summits being thrown in their respective spheres, and Russia ultimately has more to gain by siding with the former than the latter.
The G7 Summit (Or NATO + Japan)
The meeting in Germany could be better described as a gathering of NATO’s most important allies. Essentially, it functions as a trans-Atlantic talking club disguised as an economic forum, and it includes Japan owing to the fact that the island nation is the Western world’s geopolitical bastion in the East. Besides the ritual comments about climate change, this specific meeting saw its members unanimously condemning supposed ‘Russian aggression’ in Ukraine and pledging to continue the sanctions despite the economic whiplash some of them are facing. This year’s meeting also saw a handful of cooperative non-European states attend, which brought the leaders of Ethiopia, South Africa, Iraq, Tunisia, Algeria, Nigeria, and Senegal to Schloss Elmau to discuss politics with the big boys. Each of these states is looking for some type of assistance from the West, be it in development or the fight against terrorism, and their participation should be read as a sign of where the unipolar world wants to strike next.
Some of the non-European states are pure vassals, as is the case of Iraq, Tunisia, and Senegal, while the others (Ethiopia, South Africa, Algeria, and Nigeria) are pivoting between the unipolar and multipolar worlds as their leaders seek to find the right (or most profitable) ‘balance’. It’s evident that the further they move to the West, the more strategically indebted to it they’ll become, but in the case of Algeria, for example, it’s extremely difficult to maneuver outside of its confined geopolitical position. South Africa, on the other hand, has no reasonable excuses for why it would attend the G7 without its BRICS ally Russia other than the fact that Zuma wants to schmooze with the Western big shots. Anyhow, when looking at the big picture, it’s easy to see that the West intends on using these states as geopolitical beachheads into their respective African regions (with Iraq already fulfilling this role for the entire Mideast).
The BRICS and SCO Summits (Or The Multipolar Meeting)
The Multipolar Meeting in Ufa is a completely different matter than the G7 in Schloss Elmau. To begin with, BRICS brings together some of the most notable geopolitical forces in Eurasia, Africa, and South America, each of which has an interest in constructing a multipolar world. As regards South Africa, like it was earlier mentioned, Zuma wants to politick with the Western puppeteers, but at the same time, his country’s establishment is invested in a multipolar trajectory. This bipolar political identity makes South Africa the weakest and most unstable of the BRICS countries, and it’s likely it was only brought into the framework to serve as an economic door to the rest of the continent, beginning with its relatively more stable southern cone countries. Be that as it may about South Africa, however, it’s still expected that the BRICS countries will continue building their breakthrough non-Western financial architecture by strengthening the recently announced New Development Bank (known by many as the BRICS Bank). Firm statements about the rejection of unilateral sanctions, in clear reference to the West’s policy about Russia, are also likely on the agenda, as could be a couple surprise bilateral or multilateral projects between the group’s members.
The second part of the Multipolar Meeting, the SCO summit, will be even more exciting than the BRICS one before it. The group’s core members will be joined by all observers and dialogue partners, which will see the majority of Eurasia represented in some form or another. It’s been reported that India and Pakistan will be finally be admitted as full-fledged members, and Russia has hinted that the same could happen with Iran if the international sanctions are lifted by 30 June, just prior to the event’s commencement. Not only that, but the group’s Secretary General, Dmitry Mezentsev, announced in early February that Syria, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, and Bangladesh would be applying for observer status, with the Maldives and Nepal submitting requests to become dialogue partners. All of this means that the SCO is slated to bring together most of Asia, thereby enabling it to one day function as a sort of ‘Concert of Great Powers’ in addressing Eurasia’s security concerns. There certainly are challenges in achieving workable synergy between such diverse official and non-official members, but the whole point of the SCO will be to facilitate this in the future and establish a mechanism for closer cooperation.
Having looked at both the G7 and the BRICS/SCO Summits, it’s now time to question which of the two present the best benefits for Russia, and which one is actually to its strategic detriment:
G7 (NATO + Japan):
The G8, as it was called when Moscow partook in it, was largely a feel-good exercise designed to allay the West (NATO + Japan) and Russia’s mutual insecurities about the other. For the former, it made them feel that Russia’s leadership could be influenced by the group’s pro-Western slant, and that with just enough time (as the Atlantists always argue), it could be brought into the ‘Western community of nations’ as a junior partner. On the other hand, Russia viewed the group in an entirely different dimension. It didn’t see it as a means of surrendering its interests or identity, but rather as a triumphant recognition of its power and influence. Having the head of the Russian Federation sit side-by-side with his Western counterparts in discussing the year’s biggest topics was a hard-hitting sign of prestige, and it showed that despite their continual ‘democracy’-related objections, the West ultimately accepted the Russian leadership as an equal.
Unfortunately, it turned out that Russia’s perception of the G8 was misguided, as the Western countries’ understanding of it was more true to the fact (also because they constitute 7/8 of its members). The unipolar groupthink present in the format led to Russia’s dismissal from the G8 in the early stages of the New Cold War, and the group has now unleashed its true colors as a gathering of unipolar leaders. It may not have fulfilled this explicit function during the years that Russia partook in it (1998-2014), but that’s only because it was purposely restraining itself as it sought to woo Russia closer into the fold (especially during the late Yeltsin years, when Russia first joined). Now that it doesn’t have to worry about such indirect, soft power considerations, it’s free to ‘be itself’, so to speak, hence all the aggressive rabblerousing about Russia and the sanctions. Russia appeared to be somewhat disappointed when it was kicked out of the organization last year, but in hindsight, this was arguably for the better, as the next section will explain.
BRICS/SCO (The Multipolar Meeting):
Russia miscalculated the benefits of the G8, likely thinking that it could enhance its influence by dealing with its affiliated members as equals. But the thing is, the only two ‘equals’ in the group were Russia and the US, as all the other states are subservient to Washington and don’t function as independent members. Russia’s greatest oversight was thus thinking that the other states would pursue their logical economic interests in dealing with it and wouldn’t at all dare to sanction their partner, but this was proven to be absolutely incorrect when the sanctions were first implemented. The reason that this account is being recited as the lead-in to the multipolar section is because it precisely represents the opposite of what BRICS and the SCO are. In these two formats, all members are seen as equal, and none of them can realistically be described as ‘puppets’ by anyone. This is because they’ve all pursued a multipolar path over the past two decades that has led them to equally balance between their main partners, as is the case with the Central Asian states vis-à-vis Russia and China. India, Pakistan, and Iran also perform their own balancing acts, but behave much more assertively than the Central Asian states due in part to their comparatively larger populations, economies, and freedom of geopolitical movement.
None of this, however, detracts from the fact that all of the BRICS and SCO members are independent states with a shared agenda of cooperation. Pertaining to BRICS, its members seek the creation of a fairer economic model for the world, ergo their steps in constructing a non-Western financial architecture and tightening cooperation between themselves. SCO members unite in their shared opposition to the scourges of terrorism, separatism, and extremism, and they’re keenly aware of the existential threats that each of these asymmetrical weapons poses. While unity between India and Pakistan certainly leaves something to be desired, it’s worthwhile that they still want to enter the same regional organization, showing that rivalry does in fact have its limits and raising hopes that the SCO might be able to temper their mutual antagonism towards the other. After all, it’s a Eurasian axiom at this point that the US capitalizes off of all conflicts in its quest to keep Eurasia divided, and that it doesn’t find terrorism, separatism, or extremism to be beneath it in attaining this goal. The more divided that Eurasia stands amongst itself, the easier it is for the US to achieve its strategic goals; conversely, the more that it unites through various frameworks (such as the SCO), the more resilient it can grow in warding off unnecessary external interference in its affairs.
The greatest unintended consequence of the G7’s rejection of Russia has been for Moscow to wake up from its daydreams of Western acceptance and realize the nightmare that it’s found itself in, which is that the West never was its true partner and that all of its previously ‘friendly’ gestures and statements of support were generated to achieve the strategic disarmament of Russia’s policy makers. In response to the cold shower of anti-Russian rhetoric and action coming out of the West nowadays (which just a few years ago was supposedly on ‘good terms’ with Moscow), Russia has shifted its sights eastward and firmly declared its intent to construct a multipolar world. While it had announced this long before, at no time in the past has it ever been as serious about it as it is now. The West has proven that it can never peacefully coexist with Russia so long as unipolarity is the order of the day, and that the only way for Russia to stand a chance at being seen as an equal (let alone surviving in its current political and territorial form) is to resolutely pivot towards Eurasia once and for all.
Accordingly, Russia and China have dedicated themselves to streamlining their strategic partnership into an engine for pan-Eurasian integration (which it already functioned as in the past, but not to this ambitious extent) in order to bring about the multipolar vision that they both share. In this context, the Multipolar Meetings of the BRICS and SCO groupings in Ufa can be regarded as the next big step in actualizing this, and it’s highly symbolic that Russia is hosting both of them this year (and back-to-back, at that). Nothing else could have shown the West that Russia now rejects it just as much as they reject Russia, no matter how surprising this may at first seem to them. Moscow is indicating that any forthcoming cooperation between it and the West will have to be done on Russia’s multipolar terms of true geopolitical respect and equality, and that the old pattern of Russia rushing into established Western frameworks is long gone. Instead of unipolar relics such as the G7, emerging multipolar institutions such as BRICS and the SCO have become the most dynamic actors in shaping global events, and Russia’s sovereign interests are best safeguarded and served by embracing the multipolar alternative that the West has unwittingly forced upon it.