Crimea and punishment: How BRICS can get even with the West

Crimea really marks a major milestone for the BRICS. Source: AP

Crimea really marks a major milestone for the BRICS. Source: AP

The Crimean crisis indicates the defining conflict of the 21st century is likely to be NATO versus the BRICS. With the world looking up to them to stop the West, the five-nation group is prepared for high-stakes geopolitical poker.

Crimea has cratered Western pride in a significant way. In order to make the defeat look less ignominious, there are now ongoing efforts to rally deflated egos and boost nationalistic sentiments. One way to do this is by raining on the BRICS parade.

At an April 4 meeting of the Brookings Foundation, member Bruce Jones said: “There is no mortar in the BRICS. They are divided, not unified actors.”

Referring to the abstentions by Brazil, India, China and South Africa on the American sponsored UN resolution on Crimea, Charles Kupchan, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, the promotional arm of America’s ruling elite, piped in: “Overall this is an event that will sow discord within the BRICS’ grouping and will make the Chinese, Indians, Brazilians and others think more carefully about their support for and partnership with Russia.”

The fact that people like Jones and Kupchan are allowed to indulge in such cognitive doublethink is a pointer to the quality of intellectual capital at Brookings, which is ranked among the West’s most influential think tanks.

For, Crimea really marks a major milestone for the BRICS. In fact, a positive spinoff from the crisis is the group has collectively rallied around a member nation. Whether it is Brazil and South Africa’s cautious or China and India’s surprisingly explicit backing of Russia’s Crimea policy, the five-nation group has demonstrated it can close ranks when it matters.

What was remarkable was the alacrity with which they swung to Russia’s defence. There was no waiting around trying to assess domestic or international public opinion. In fact, the BRICS ticked off Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop for suggesting her country might ban Russia’s participation in the G20 summit to be held in Brisbane in November. The crisis thus augurs well for the alliance’s future.

Creating a de-Americanised world

Jones, however, is on the money when he says the US and emerging powers will be in geopolitical competition and rivalry for “a considerable period of time.” In his view “only military power, only American military power, and the willingness to use force if necessary” can deter rivalries and competition that threaten the US in the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

Clearly, nothing has changed since the savage attacks on Serbia, Iraq and Libya. Aggression against states that do not follow Western diktats remains the one-size-fits-all solution to slice through geopolitical Gordian Knots.

According to former Indian foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal, the North Atlantic centred view of the world is entrenched in Western thinking. “The West is unable to shed this outmoded thinking even when economic power has shifted eastwards and political power has got dispersed with the rise of several non-Western countries,” he says.

The time is right for the BRICS to step up and stop the West’s constant bullying and targeting of small nations. Riding on the current bonhomie the group needs to create an institutional mechanism – backed by military means if need be – to check Western aggression. As China’s official new agency Xinhua comments, it is time for the world to start building a “de-Americanised world.”

However, the defining principle of the BRICS must not be self-interest. The alliance must step in to protect weaker nations and say no to the sort of carnivorous neo-colonialism that has consigned nations such as Iraq and Libya to a nightmarish state of existence.

Breaking the stranglehold

There surely is a sense of urgency among the BRICS to stop American-led adventurism. An editorial in the Global Times, the official mouthpiece of the Chinese government, says: “The evolution of the Ukrainian situation shows us clearly that in the international political arena, principles are decided by power. Without its support and blessing, no principle can prevail.” Shades of Sun Tzu’s Art of War?

There is no ambivalence in Moscow either. A key Kremlin document lays out what Russia expects from the BRICS: “Subject to a firm political will on the part of governments of the participating states to deepen cooperation, the association can potentially become a key element of a new system of global governance, first of all, in the financial and economic areas. At the same time, the Russian Federation stands in favour of positioning BRICS in the world system as a new model of global relations, overarching the old dividing lines between East and West, and North and South.”

Since finance is the fuel that drives the global economic engine, it makes sense for the BRICS have to strengthen that flank first. Currently, the world’s financial hubs are London and New York. But London is a city that’s steeped in corruption, with the country’s reserve bank, the Bank of England, involved in interest rate fixing of an order of magnitude that makes corruption in emerging countries look puny by comparison. Across the Atlantic, the US is literally writing its own cheque because of unrestrained printing of dollars.

Such interest rate manipulations and currency debasements are negatively and cyclically impacting the global economy, and especially the BRICS. In fact, it suits the West to have periodic booms and busts because it keeps the emergent economies in turmoil. It keeps poor countries poor and the emergent ones stuck in what’s known as the “middle income trap”.

Increased intra-BRICS trade can reduce dependence on Western markets and financial inflows. Currently the BRICS, except China, are having low growth rates because the massive Western cash flows that boosted their economies have fled, chasing greener pastures in the United States.

China’s massive stash of $3700 billion in forex earnings and Russia’s reserves of around $500 billion should be strategically employed to bring down the West’s financial strongholds. Just swapping their dollars for BRICS currencies – albeit at a cost – will diminish the global appetite for dollars and pounds and weaken the West.

Weaning members from the West side

The world is closely watching the power struggle between the West and BRICS. While 11 countries voted against the US-sponsored UN resolution on Crimea, 58 countries abstained. Abstention does not indicate a pro or anti stance. Among those that abstained were Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iraq, Kenya, Uganda and Vietnam. For once, Pakistan was on the same side as India.

What is interesting is 24 countries didn’t show up for the vote. Among the no-shows were US-allied Israel and its archenemy Iran.

These are indications the geopolitical landscape is changing. Other than the EU and NATO countries, most of the rest are not prepared to let Washington dictate their foreign policy. They are potential allies of the BRICS.

Education matters

History is written by the victors, and Russia is taking the dictum seriously. Days after Crimea’s reunification, Russia’s education department issued guidelines for teachers to clarify the country’s position to Russian school students.

China is already ahead in the game. Its school curriculum is so nationalistic that the one thing you can’t do is brainwash a Han.

Because of India’s chaotic democracy, influential sections in the country of 1200 million people are still tuned into the Western narrative. At the peak of the Crimean crisis, when correspondence between Indian and Russian aircraft manufacturers was selectively leaked by hackers hostile to Moscow, the Indian media rushed to publish these emails without questioning. Considering the timing of the leaks, there should have been a healthy dose of scepticism. The Sunday Guardian, for instance, put out an article that lapped up all the garbage. Somewhere in the CIA, glasses must have clinked.

The fight for global domination has to be won at home first. Otherwise, just stay home.

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