June end was a period of frenetic international diplomatic activity: the annual NATO summit in Madrid between June 28 and 30; the G7 meeting in the Bavarian Alps in Germany between June 26 and 28; the EU summit on June 23 and 24 in Brussels; and a largely virtual meeting of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) leaders under the chairmanship of China also on June 23 and 24. The first three meetings were meant to be a show of Western solidarity against Russia. The Chinese and Russian media drew a contrast between the BRICS meeting and the G7, pointing out that BRICS represented three billion people while the G7 represented only 770 million. The G7 summit was preoccupied with piling on more sanctions against Russia, while the BRICS summit focussed on issues that were relevant to the developing world such as ensuring food and fuel security.
The EU leaders, under considerable pressure from the Biden administration, finally announced the granting of candidate status to Ukraine. Moldova, a small republic bordering Ukraine, has also been invited to join. French President Emmanuel Macron said EU candidacy “was a very strong signal” of the bloc’s support for Ukraine. He described the move as a sign that “a strong and united Europe” had emerged following the start of the conflict in Ukraine.
Until the conflict broke out, Germany and France, the most influential EU members, had been reluctant to admit Ukraine and Moldova to the EU following Russia’s reservations to the move as the two countries were until recently within its sphere of influence. But now Moscow is more concerned about NATO expansion along its long borders. President Vladimir Putin, speaking at the St Petersburg Economic Forum meeting just before the EU meet, said Russia had no objection to Ukraine becoming a EU member. “We have nothing against their sovereign decision to join an economic union…. It’s their business, the business of a sovereign people,” he said.
Ukraine had applied for EU membership immediately after the conflict with Russia started in late February, and the application was fast-tracked at the EU headquarters in Brussels. European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the accession process would be “merit based” and “by the book”. It will take years for Ukraine to get membership, and by that time the state in all probability would have been reduced to a rump. Georgia, which like Ukraine was a part of the Soviet Union, has been told to wait a little longer for EU entry. Turkey, a Muslim country, which applied decades ago for membership, has now given up hope.
EU and sanctions
The EU called for more sanctions against Russia, but the suggestion did not find favour with all member countries. Hungarian officials, speaking on the sidelines of the summit, said that more sanctions would hurt the bloc. They said peace talks with Moscow were the only option. Shortage of many basic necessities, coupled with rising inflation, has hit all the European economies, and the demand for oil and gas is bound to peak in the coming winter months.
The EU’s precipitate decision to wean itself off Russian oil and gas has backfired. EU powerhouses Germany and Italy were dependent to a large extent on energy from Russia. Balazs Orban, a senior aide to the Hungarian Prime Minister, told the media: “At the end of the day, Europe will be on the losing side of this war because of the economic problems. Our recommendations are that we stop the sanctions process.”
The G7 summit wasted no time in announcing continued financial, military, and humanitarian aid to Ukraine “for as long as it takes”. It reaffirmed that it would continue to “coordinate efforts to meet Ukraine’s urgent requirements for military and defence equipment”. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz called for a “Marshall Plan” for Ukraine. (The original Marshall Plan helped western Europe recover from the devastation of the Second World War.) .
The G7 statement said that additional sanctions against Russia would include targeting of its gold exports and further restrictions on its access to key technologies used in the manufacture of sophisticated weaponry. It accused Russia of “bearing enormous responsibility for rising threats to global security”.
Interestingly, although the G7 blames Russia for the disruption of cereal exports from Ukraine, Russia has gone out of its way to facilitate export of grain by vacating the tiny Snake Island on the Black Sea, which it had occupied, and guaranteeing safe passage for ships carrying Ukrainian food exports to the world market. Western media and governments fail to mention that important ports like Odessa from where grain is exported have been mined by the Ukrainian government apparently to discourage Russian naval incursions.
The G7’s failure to focus on the emerging global food crisis has come in for wide criticism. Global food prices started rising much before the crisis in Ukraine mainly because of disruptions in the global supply chain, adverse weather, and rising energy prices. In January 2022, food prices were the highest since 2011, and the Food and Agricultural Organisation warned of an impending global food crisis. The conflict in Ukraine only exacerbated it.
The World Food Programme has asked for $22 billion to stave off the food crisis. The G7, while pledging billions of dollars to Ukraine’s war effort, pledged only $4.5 billion for global food security. The G7 bloc accounts for 45 per cent of the world’s GDP. Mark Malloch Brown, a former UN Deputy Secretary-General, said that the world, and not one country alone, urgently needed “a Marshall Plan”.
Leaders of India, Indonesia, Argentina, South Africa, and Senegal were invited to the G7 summit, ostensibly to discuss the looming food, health, and climate crises along with other topics. The invited leaders were apparently not swayed by the West’s arguments about Ukraine or the dangers Russia and China posed to the international community. The “Resilient Democracies Statement” issued during the meeting did not mention the war in Ukraine at all.
The G7 spent only an hour and a half over three days discussing the serious economic and environmental challenges facing the world. Sixty per cent of the developing countries are struggling with debt, yet the G7 has not bothered to use its clout to persuade the IMF to suspend debt repayments, remove borrowing limits, and provide fresh loans so that needy countries can have the wherewithal to buy imported food and energy.
The G7 announced its $600-billion Partnership for Global Infrastructure, viewed as a competitor to China’s ambitious Belt and Road Initiative BRI), at the summit. The BRI has already left its imprint in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. China has also announced its Global Development Initiative, which dwarfs the G7’s partnership initiative as far as funding is concerned.
NATO on Russia, China
At the NATO summit in Madrid, more fire and brimstone was directed against Russia. The country was branded as “the most direct and significant threat to Allies’ security and to peace and stability in the Euro-Atlantic area”. And for the first time, NATO officially listed China as one of its strategic priorities, stating that Beijing’s “coercive policies” challenge the Western bloc’s “interests, security and values”. Australia, South Korea, Japan, and New Zealand were invited to the summit in a clear signal that NATO plans to expand to the Asia-Pacific region.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the war in Ukraine had brought about the “biggest overhaul of our collective defence since the end of the Cold War”. The last hurdle for Sweden and Finland to join NATO was cleared at the summit when Turkey withdrew its objections. While Russia did not formally object to two more of its immediate neighbours joining the Western military alliance, Putin warned that Russia will respond if these two countries welcome foreign military bases on their territories and that Russia will then have to create “the same threats for the territory from which threats against us are created”.
In his speech at the opening of the BRICS summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping praised the “resilience and vitality” of the grouping and urged the new emerging powers to “support each other on issues concerning core interests” and resist “Cold War mentality” and “reject hegemony bullying and division”. Xi criticised the attempts to expand military alliances at the expense of others. Putin accused the West of trying to create a new global economic system. He asserted that “certain Western states” had created the current global food crisis through their sanctions policies.
The BRICS summit was attended by 12 countries from Asia, Africa, and Latin America that are not members of the grouping. Among those present were the foreign ministers of Indonesia, Senegal, Algeria, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Thailand, and Argentina. The Beijing Document called for a new global order that better reflected the interests of the Global South.
Expansion of BRICS
China and Russia want to expand BRICS by opening up membership to countries like Iran, Indonesia, and Argentina. Iran seems likely to become a member in the very near future. India is averse to turning BRICS into an anti-West bloc and has used its influence to water down any rhetoric that is mildly critical of the West in the joint statements issued by the grouping. Brazil and South Africa are also not in favour of adopting a confrontational posture against the West.
Both India and South Africa have welcomed their inclusion into the G7-plus grouping that was recently announced. India, South Korea, Australia, and South Africa are members of the so-called G11 grouping that was created during the latest G7 summit.
Both the US and Russia want to keep India in good humour, allowing it to pick and choose alliances. India has not changed its stance on Ukraine and has substantially increased its purchase of Russian oil. The US’ objections to India defying Western sanctions on Russia have become more muted.