The BRICS summit, held virtually in China, enshrined a new form of non-alignment of the global south, which makes it clear that Russia’s isolation only applies in relation to the West. It’s enough to look at the numbers.
China and India have seen a major increase in oil imports from Russia. In May, Beijing imported 800,000 barrels of Russian crude oil by sea each day, 40% more than in January, in addition to the oil that is arriving via pipeline. Urals oil, until recently sold mainly in Europe, costs $30 less than Brent oil.
From January to May, India’s imports of Russian oil rose from zero to 700,000 barrels per day. The U.S. has asked New Delhi, the world’s third-largest consumer of “black gold,” to not go overboard with imports from Russia, but India’s energy minister replied dryly that India couldn’t give it up. The European and American (especially European) talk about a gas price cap is not really taken seriously, which is the great new hope of importing countries like Germany and Italy, gripped by the energy crisis generated by the sanctions on Moscow.
None of the leaders of Brazil, China, India or South Africa – which, together with Russia, make up BRICS, a group with very different geography and demography compared to the G-7 – has condemned Putin or imposed sanctions on Moscow so far. In the 75-point final communiqué, one can only find one reference to Ukraine in point 22, where they say they support “talks between Russia and Ukraine,” a clearly neutral statement, in line with previous ones.
This non-alignment with the West almost sounds like an “alignment” with Moscow. This is not surprising: apart from the abstention of many states, mainly African, on UN resolutions related to Ukraine, no non-Western country has imposed sanctions on Russia; and that includes Turkey, a NATO member, and Israel, an American bulwark in the Middle East. As Iranian-born political scientist Trita Parsi points out, “countries in the global South regard Russia as an aggressor, but when the West demanded to break economic ties with Russia – in the name of international law, which the U.S. has systematically violated – an allergic chain reaction was set off.”
The position of the Saudi regime is significant, which not only has not condemned Moscow, but is banking on Opec+, the coordination agreement with Russia on oil, and is maintaining the military agreement with Moscow signed in August 2021, called “strategic” by Saudi Deputy Defense Minister Prince Khalid bin Salman.
In July, Biden is preparing to go to Saudi Arabia (and Israel), where he’ll also meet with Prince Mohammed bin Salman, whom he called a “pariah” for being behind the assassination of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, who was hacked to pieces in 2018 inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul. Biden’s visit will come in the aftermath of the recent embrace between Erdogan and Prince bin Salman, on which Michele Giorgio published a fine analysis in Friday’s il manifesto: the two had been at each other’s throats for the Turks’ support of the Muslim Brotherhood, but today certificates of good conduct are also being issued to murderers when it serves the goals of realpolitik and earning hard cash.
After all, Erdogan supported ISIS against Assad, a historical ally of Shiite Iran, which is in turn an enemy of Riyadh; he proved loyal to Qatar in its quarrel with the Saudis, and he methodically slaughtered the Kurds and supported Sarraj in 2019 when he was besieged in Tripoli by General Haftar. Draghi will have to contend with all of Erdogan’s “feats” on his upcoming trip to Turkey, a country that is dictating the agenda in Libya and the eastern Mediterranean, places from which Italy would like to source the gas we won’t get from Russia, but where we have less and less influence. Meanwhile, Turkey is offering to mediate between Moscow and Kiev and continuing to do business with Putin.
In reality, Russia’s isolation is relative, not only if one looks at the global south and BRICS but also at the Middle East, where Putin is an indispensable interlocutor in all regional crises, being the only power to maintain regular relations with the whole set of regional players, even when they are at loggerheads or at war with each other: just think of Israel and Iran, the Houthis and the United Arab Emirates, Turkey and the Kurdish groups.
Most importantly, in the Middle East and the global south, people resent the doublespeak and rhetoric of the West. Is the U.S., which together with NATO bombed Serbia in ’99, Libya in 2011, invaded Afghanistan (only to abandon it to the Taliban in 2021) and then also Iraq in 2003, really the best actor to call for respect for international law? The U.S. has also used cluster bombs, phosphorus and depleted uranium munitions.
The U.S. military’s crimes in Afghanistan (70,000 civilian deaths) and Iraq have been widely documented, without ever resulting in any condemnation or sanction. Not to mention Palestine, which has been occupied for decades with American support but, unlike Ukraine, is earning no international solidarity while Western governments continue to give Israel carte blanche.
We must, and can, continue to isolate Putin, the aggressor and slaughterer of Ukrainian civilians – but, at least once in a while, let us also isolate our blind and dogged hypocrisy, which the rest of the world finds incomprehensible.