There is still an outside chance that Russia could return to the G7. But until that happens, Russia is exploring other options, including an expanded role for the BRICS.
The G7 summit in Schloss Elmau hotel, southern Germany, June 8, 2015. Photo: AP
As expected, the latest summit of the G7 in the Bavarian Alps did not produce any new conceptual decisions on whether to tighten the sanctions against Russia or adhere to the status quo. For that, at least, the Kremlin had cause to cheer.
“There were discernible nuances in the positions of the G7 members,” stated Russian presidential press secretary Dmitry Peskov, adding that some countries even mentioned the need to promote dialogue with Russia.
And, although the G7 reaffirmed the “united sanctions front” against Russia and agreed to extend the punitive measures, the speeches in Bavaria carried clear undertones of something else: The EU is eagerly awaiting the moment when it can announce that the sanctions have done their job and Russian President Vladimir Putin has agreed to soften his position on Ukraine, stop leaning on Kiev, and withdraw his support for the separatists in Donetsk and Luhansk.
Washington’s confirmation that it does not intend to send offensive weapons to Ukraine is crucial. White House Press Secretary Josh Ernest said at the summit that the United States does not intend to engage in the supply of offensive weapons to the Ukrainian army, as it would undermine a peaceful resolution of the conflict.
“Sanctions are not an end in themselves,” stated Angela Merkel in an interview with German TV channel ZDF. “They will be lifted when the conditions under which they were introduced no longer exist and the issues are resolved.”
President of the European Council Donald Tusk even expressed regret that the meeting of developed countries was taking place without Russia, but was philosophical, saying that the situation would change and the “seven” would become “eight” once again.
The toughest line came from Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who announced that he would no longer sit next to Putin.
Moscow can draw deep satisfaction from the fact that only the technical details of the sanctions were discussed; no political decision was taken.
“It’s more like an instructive measure,” says Business FM radio station analyst Dmitry Drize. “Moscow has been asked to behave properly. Ukraine, too, is being urged to comply with the Minsk agreements, according to statements by Obama and Merkel.”
It is worth noting that pro-Kremlin media castigated the G7 gathering. A cartoon published by RIA Novosti even went viral.
National TV station Rossiya said that the organization should be renamed the G2, because only two countries, the United States and Germany, are in the driver’s seat, while the rest are passengers. This view is widespread among pro-Kremlin, anti-U.S. political experts.
“The G7 will continue its pro-U.S. policy,” asserts Sergei Modestov, doctor of political and philosophical sciences. “The Americans have always imposed their rules on Europe and will continue to do so, despite the fact that the G7 will become nothing more than a club of seven countries with no real impact on truly global issues.”
Modestov believes that the G7 will be gradually supplanted by new international organizations and coalitions of other countries.
Russia looks for an alternative to the G7
Other Russian political analysts prefer to take a more balanced position, positing that the G7 will remain more of a think tank for prescribing financial, economic and political “medicine” for the world.
What will Russia’s place be in all this?
“The 2015 summit was probably the last to debate the topic of Russia’s participation or non-participation,” says Fyodor Lukyanov, chairman of the Russian Council on Foreign and Defense Policy and editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs magazine. The G8 will be consigned to history as a byword for the 15-year period when it was believed that Russia was becoming part of the extended West.”
Where is Russia headed? According to Lukyanov, “a direct analogue of the G7, and a potential counterweight to it, is the BRICS. Whereas one gathers together the 'cream' of the Western world (plus Japan), the other represents the best of the non-Western world. Only the lack of shared values (something the G7 has) is believed to be hampering the consolidation of the BRICS.
But value-based alliances are a feature only of the Western community; for other countries it is more important in the new multipolar world to be able to overcome cultural and political differences and work together without being bound by common notions, believes Lukyanov.
One could take issue with this statement. Cultural and political differences may well be hampering BRICS consolidation. Just take a look at the thorny friendship between China and Russia, which fears being turned into a raw material appendage, not to mention the overt threat of the Middle Kingdom's territorial expansion northwards.
Relations between China and Brazil are also less than optimal. Latin America’s largest country is experiencing a serious economic crisis and a sharp dip in government approval ratings following a string of high-profile corruption scandals.
One of the causes of the crisis is that Brazil’s trade turnover with China has long been export-heavy, but weaker growth in China is now hitting Brazilian goods, primarily raw materials and minerals. The trade turnover between Russia and India is not too balanced either, and is made up largely of Russian military hardware and services. South Africa, meanwhile, is somewhat detached from the whole integration process. Thus, for all Moscow’s gushing enthusiasm, the BRICS club is unlikely to turn into a center of gravity for Russia.
Another avenue to explore is the G20. But according to Lukyanov, Moscow is not overly keen on the forum. Whereas the G20 summit in St. Petersburg in 2013 was a turning point in resolving the issue of Syria’s chemical weapons, Putin’s participation in Brisbane was rather embarrassing, as the organizers went out of their way to make the Russian leader look isolated.
For Russia, the question of self-identification is no less acute now than it was at the beginning of the 1990s, when it stood on the threshold of the G7. Moscow is endeavoring to show the world something quite simple and distinctive, a “special” development vector. But without effective ideas, it can prove nothing to the West.
At times, whether in achieving a breakthrough, as in the case of Syria, or in showing goodwill, as in the creation of a collective front against Iran’s nuclear program, Russia seems to pay more attention to the traditional values of the past, rather than look to the future.