Why Does Russia Underestimate China And South Africa’s (BRICS) Peace Initiatives? – OpEd


Global leaders struggle to resolve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict which began October 7. United Nations has held series of meetings, expressed concern over the humanitarian catastrophe that unfolded in the region. Israel has outright been accused of war crimes and “genocide” in the Palestinian territory. These followed Russia’s ‘special military operation’ in Ukraine late February 2022, with similar consequences – killing of thousands of civilians including children, many more thousands were displaced and destruction of infrastructure.

In both cases, Russia-Ukraine and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, BRICS – a group of major emerging economies that includes Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa – have shown concerns over violation of state sovereignty, and indicated steps that could ensure and guarantee peace and security. Pretoria, November 21, hosted a virtual meeting of BRICS aimed at drawing up a common response to the Israel-Hamas conflict. It ended with a number of strong recommendations to secure ceasefire and halt further escalation of the conflict.

Thanks for that videoconference, such a high-level effort which was not different from when South Africa headed the African Peace Initiative group to deliver ‘a ten-point peace plan’ document to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv and Russian President Vladimir Putin in St. Petersburg. Until today, both Zelenskyy and Putin declined to implement a ceasefire, and no-one was particularly surprised they utterly rejected appeals for negotiations and diplomatic means to seek a ceasefire. Today, Putin has also proposed a Global Peace Summit on Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

It was very noticeable that Russia underestimates those peace initiatives put forward by China and South Africa. It utterly disregarded, so to describe, the unique and collaborative efforts made by BRICS members shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine in late February 2022. In 2010, South Africa received unanimous backing from the existing BRIC members – Brazil, Russia, India and China – to join the group, has since made its contributions to the group’s historical progress and remarkable development.

As the rotating BRICS chair, it took the onerous decision with African colleagues to settle the Russia-Ukraine crisis. South Africa’s snapshot peace points included: That the African delegation listens to and understands both the Russian and Ukrainian perspectives on the war. The war must be settled and ended with negotiations; A de-escalation of conflict on both sides.

That Africa recognises the countries’ sovereignty and believes all parties should work in terms of internationally recognised principles; There need to be security guarantees; Call for opening up of movement of grain shipments through the Black Sea and into Africa.

Grant humanitarian aid to all those suffering because of the conflict; Free all prisoners of war on both sides; Repatriate all children displaced by the war; There should be post-war reconstruction, and Further negotiations to end the war, with Africa contributing and that the war was negatively affecting countries in Africa.

The geopolitical implications of the Russia-Ukraine crisis is quite deep-seated and arguable. Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said, after the three-hour meeting, the African’s peace plan consisted of ten (10) elements, but “was not formulated on paper.” He further underlined that “Russia can’t give up goals of its special military operation in Ukraine.” Similarly, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov added in stern remarks: “The peace initiative proposed by African countries is very difficult to implement, difficult to compare positions.”

In addition to above, the Chinese 12-point peace plan unveiled by Beijing are as follows: The sovereignty of all countries is respected, Abandoning the Cold War mentality, Ceasing hostilities, Resuming peace talks, Resolving the humanitarian crisis, Protecting civilians and prisoners of war (PoWs).

It includes: Keeping nuclear power plants safe, Reducing strategic risks, Facilitating grain exports, Stopping unilateral sanctions, Keeping industrial and supply chains stable and Promoting post-conflict reconstruction.

Beijing, Moscow and Pretoria could not arrive at anything common after those high-level discussions over Russia-Ukraine conflict. China, the backbone of BRICS, also proposed significant points for Russia. It completely undermined the basic guiding principles, and at least the diplomatic outreach to lend confidence in peace resolution, from its BRICS members. It raises questions about the value ‘mutual respect’ as group members and their significant roles in the international system of enforcing and keeping global peace.

Putin reiterated his narratives about Ukraine’s “attack on the Donbas” and Moscow’s alleged pursuit of “peace” in his online address to the virtual G20 summit held November 22, the full-speech published on Kremlin’s website. He offered a vivid characterization of war and its consequences. That war is always a tragedy, but “we have to think” about how to stop it, Putin said, claiming that “Russia has never refused peace talks with Ukraine.”

Analyzing all these from above, the simple implication is that Africans have still not yet resolved their own conflicts and political instability in the continent and now wanted to broker conflicts in Europe and in the Middle East. Understandably, South Africa and Russia are BRICS members, though. On the other hand, Africans have to recognize the complexities and contradictions of the evolutionary geopolitical processes. Still, it would be demeaning for Russia, its boisterous global status, to succumb to Africa’s demand. 

Beyond all that, BRICS efforts in leading South-South cooperation is staggering. It dreams to inaugurate a new world with players having interactive voices on global stage, but watches the daily destruction of the population Palestine and Ukraine. Since its establishment, BRICS has not forged multilateral collaboration with South Africa, considered as a gateway, in conflict-torn regions inside Africa. Pretoria itself flatters a lot, killing fellow Africans inside South Africa under the slogan ‘African We Want’ and within the concept of African Union. The deplorable levels of first-class racism and xenophobia in South Africa.

We recognize and highly appreciate the fact that whenever there are crisis in any part of this world, many global leaders, international organizations such as the United Nations and BRICS seemingly deliver all kinds of collective messages, reiterate unflinching support for regional and international efforts aimed at achieving an immediate cessation of hostilities and request for ensuring the protection of civilians and the timely provision of humanitarian aid.

With the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and as it was with Russia-Ukraine last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping called for an “international peace conference” to achieve that primary goal of establishing peace. “There can be no sustainable peace and security in the Middle East without a just solution to the question of Palestine,” Xi said. China has historically been sympathetic to the Palestinians and supportive of a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Replicating the message of China, President Putin, who has accused the West of stoking tensions in the Middle East and criticized Israel for its conduct in the conflict, said a ‘long-term and sustainable ceasefire’ was key to prevent other states from being drawn into the war.

Interestingly, the Russian leader joined and called for a political solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and suggested regional states and members of the BRICS group of countries could be involved in efforts to reach such a settlement. But, what has been the situation with Ukraine? And the peace initiatives by China and South Africa? Was Putin only trying to use the Gaza crisis to his geopolitical advantage as part of a strategy to court allies in developing countries and build what he has termed a new world order to counter United States dominance?

In the televised comments during the virtual BRICS summit, Putin blamed the Middle East crisis on the failure of United States diplomacy in the region. As a long-term remedy to the growing situation, Putin used such phrases as ‘de-escalating the situation, a ceasefire and finding a political solution to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.’

In practical terms, Russia and South Africa share common language here, since both form one profound alliance. “The collective punishment of Palestinian civilians through the unlawful use of force by Israel is a war crime. The deliberate denial of medicine, fuel, food and water to the residents of Gaza is tantamount to genocide,” said the current Chairman of BRICS and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Of course it is well-known that South Africa has long been a vocal supporter of the Palestinian cause, with the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party often linking it to its own struggle against apartheid. South Africa called for an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation into the conflict. But what is really fascinating, Ramaphosa accused Israel of actions ‘tantamount to genocide’ in Gaza, went beyond to suggest ‘an arrest warrant’ be issued, without delay, for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Some basic questions emerged including what was BRICS stance on ICC arrest warrant for President Vladimir Putin during preparations for the 15th BRICS summit in Johannesburg. The world has seen the endgame results of BRICS members, in terms of common position and powerful roles the group aims at playing on global stage, on Russia-Ukraine conflict. In particular, Africa has an interest in this because of its economic importance them (receive Russian grains to offset shortages and starvation at home while defense remains the cornerstone of bilateral relationships, most notably in a barter contract system for access to huge untapped natural resources), this points to the peace initiative taken by Ramaphosa and the leaders of Egypt, Republic of Congo, Senegal, Uganda and Zambia.

The geopolitical realities may definitely turn the tides on Russia-Ukraine and Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, as both war-infested actions have caused an irreparable economic instability across the world. Arguably countries vying for the emerging global reconfiguration have to influence and leverage into the next joint collective declaration for sustainable global peace and economic stability. Peace-loving countries and leaders have to raise the voice louder and take concrete steps toward attaining needed peace in different parts of this world.

President Vladimir Putin and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have to consider stopping the monstrous military hostilities, accept urgent top-level calls for negotiations and for establishing peace. People in Ukraine and Gaza Strip desperately need peace. And people around the world demand to live in absolute peace. The logic is simple, if BRICS looks to create an alternative multipolar world, then Russia should understand, at least, aspects of peace initiatives  by China and South Africa. Moscow’s position is at variance from Beijing and Pretoria. It follows, therefore, that BRICS members have distinctive disagreements over pertinent multifaceted issues, including building a fashionable, peaceful and democratic world. 

Kester Kenn Klomegah

Kester Kenn Klomegah is an independent researcher and a policy consultant on African affairs in the Russian Federation and Eurasian Union. He has won media awards for highlighting economic diplomacy in the region with Africa. Currently, Klomegah is a Special Representative for Africa on the Board of the Russian Trade and Economic Development Council. He enjoys travelling and visiting historical places in Eastern and Central Europe. Klomegah is a frequent and passionate contributor to Eurasia Review.

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