Ufa at the Center of the World

July 9, 2015
By Mark Sleboda

For the week of July 6-10, the city of Ufa, Russia will have been at the center of the world, or more particularly the very center of the emerging multipolar world order.

Russia, with host and presidency duties of the annual heads of state’s summits of both BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) and the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), has taken advantage of the opportunity to hold both summits in concert.

The occasion is also being used to hold a meeting of the heads of the newly formed EAEU (Eurasian Economic Union). This is no coincidence or mere convenience – this is a definitive statement about world order and international relations.

Ufa was surely chosen by Russia for two reasons beyond simply pumping needed infrastructure money into the city. First, Ufa, as the capital of the Islamic majority Bashkortostan Republic will highlight the summits’ – and Russia’s multi-confessional – character.

Second, Ufa’s location in central Russia on the verge of the Urals – also stresses Russia’ enormous size, bridging both the West and the East.

The Western governments and press love to refer to the actions and positions of the West as “the international community”, but in Ufa we see a much more real representation of the international community.

With the confluence of these three meetings nearly every member of the Eurasian continent stretching from Belarus and Russia to China, and south to India, Pakistan, and Iran will have representatives present. Pakistan and Iran are two major forces within the Islamic World.

Brazil representing Latin America and South Africa for the African continent also provide a voice of the other major poles of the globe. What’s more the vast majority of these representatives will be heads of state. This is no minor convergence.

The five BRICS members alone represent over a quarter (26 per cent) of the earth’s land surface, nearly half of the world’s population (42 per cent), and nearly a third (27 per cent) of the world’s GDP – and growing rapidly.

How the West was absent

The five leaders of BRICS met in Ufa, Russia, this week (above). The city also hosted a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union [Xinhua]
The five leaders of BRICS met in Ufa, Russia, this week (above). The city also hosted a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization and the Eurasian Economic Union [Xinhua]

What is most telling and definitive is not even who is present in Ufa this week – but who is not.
The West is not. The would-be hegemon of the world, the United States, who demands a hub and spokes foreign policy arrangement, where the primary medium of interaction between all other states should be via the US – is not there.

Not a single member of the EU is there. The other major anglophone states – Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – are not there.

The West’s Asian proxies – Japan and South Korea are not there. Washington’s allies for control of the Middle East, the Saudi-led GCC (Gulf Cooperation Council) and Israel are not there.

But most of the rest of the world is there. Every major power that has NOT been subsumed into the US-led Western hegemony that has dominated international relations since 1992 and established a unipolar world order, is in Ufa this week.

The US and EU are barely mentioned in the BRICS summit 43-page signed declaration – and when they were it was to castigate their use of unilateral sanctions against Russia as a violation of international law and doing harm to the global economy.

The BRICS, SCO, and EUAA summits show just how absurd and out of touch with
reality the West’s declared attempts to “isolate” Russia and use sanctions as an instrument of geopolitical coercion really are.

And it is significant that these summits are being held while significant global conflicts are playing out in Ukraine, Syria, and the South China Sea, most of which pit the West on opposite sides to most of the BRICS and SCO members.

What is happening in Ufa this week is not the formation of some kind of anti-Western bloc or a direct challenge military, political, economic, or otherwise to the US or the rest of the West, ala the Cold War.

But it IS multilateral cooperation of the rest of the world’s sovereign independent states outside of the West. They are no longer just vocally demanding a greater and deserved share of global decision-making.

They have been too long ignored and we are far past that point. They are doing an end-run around Western-controlled international institutions and financial architecture, creating their own parallel structures of global governance, and seizing it for themselves.

A new multipolar world order

In Ufa, we are seeing the laying of the foundations of a truly multi-polar world order of independent powers – one that can and will deal with the West on its own terms.

Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov said on Thursday, “BRICS is in fact an already established new center of the multipolar world and the new and more democratic system of international relations. BRICS is a phenomenon of the 21st century and here is its difference from military and political unions that come from another epoch and alliances of states built under a hierarchical principle.”

This is the face of 21st century international relations. Get used to it. It’s not going anywhere.

And these summits are no mere talking shop or leader’s photo op, like the recently held G-7 Summit. These foundations have been long-planned, grown to fruition, and are just now being laid out in concrete and definite terms.

There is a host of substantive agreements being signed, as well as behind the scenes deal-making.

The most important developments of BRICS summit in Ufa are the coming into force of the BRICS NDB (New Development Bank) and the CRA (Contingent Reserve Agreement), a monetary “insurance pool” for the BRICS members to draw on in times of economic crisis for economic stability.

This may not sound like much, but it is. In the modern world money is power – which means economic institutions and banks are power. Cooperation is power.

An international organization without financial instruments to draw on and use is an ineffective one. BRICS now has that.

The BRICS members have long demanded a greater say in the decision-making process of the Western-controlled IMF and World Bank, respective of their growing economic strength, and have grown sick of waiting and being ignored.

Together with the Chinese led AIIB (Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank), the NDB and CRA provide the foundation of an alternate, parallel, and supplemental global financial architecture.

BRICS members also announced measures to increase trade amongst themselves in each other’s currencies, a blow to the US dollar’s status as global reserve currency. The declared intent of all this is not to challenge the existing Western–led international financial institutions, per se – but of course that is what they are at the end of the day.

Some of the money and thus power and influence that could be going to the IMF and World Bank will now be diverted to the BRICS institutions instead. This whichever way you want to slice it is a challenge, even if not a direct one, to Western economic and financial control of the world.

As for the SCO summit in Ufa – the big event is that Pakistan and Iran, long observer states and applicants, will formally be offered full membership status.

Even more, it has strongly been hinted by the Russian Foreign Ministry that Iran’s membership application will also be endorsed, opening the way for Iran to join as a full member as well in the near future.

This is sure to incense the US. This will be a major geopolitical paradigm shift as unlike BRICS, the SCO has a very real and growing security component.

It is a big gamble as Indian-Pakistani tensions and Iran’s pariah status for the West could potentially paralyze the SCO – or they could provide the perfect instrument for managing these tensions and ensure cooperation across the Eurasian continent for security and stability as the SCO has done for Sino-Russian tensions in Central Asia. Either way – it’s a game changer.

Western governments and media this week are doing their very best to ignore what is happening in Ufa out of spite, as the party they aren’t invited to.

More fools them. Don’t make the same mistake. Pay attention.

This convergence of summits of non-Western independent powers and its concrete results are planting the seeds of a multipolar world and new institutions of global governance.

Just for this week – this has made Ufa the very center of that new world.


How Putin’s yoga stretched US coverage of Ufa summits

The BRICS Post

July 12, 2015
By Sulafah Al Shami

World leaders gathered in Ufa, Russia to discuss Vladimir Putin’s yoga skills – at least, that’s what some US publications see as important news from the summits [Xinhua]

The 7th BRICS and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits, which brought together 14 heads of state and thousands of people in delegations, concluded in the Russian Federation city of Ufa this weekend, but the events might as well have been in an alternate universe if you were reading the news in the US.
Ufa, BRICS, and the SCO garnered little or no attention in US media, and when they did, their significance was downplayed.

In fact, it wasn’t the establishment of the BRICS Bank or the billions in trade promised between the countries making up these blocs that proved newsworthy for most.

It was yoga.

Time Magazine covered the BRICS summit on July 9, albeit by publishing an article making light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s yoga remarks, with a lede that reads as follows: “He’s mastered judo, swimming, hunting and even bare-chested horseback riding. Now for the sake of his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s willing to give yoga a shot.”

But Time Magazine wasn’t the only one that found the yoga story far more interesting than the spirit of multilateral cooperation materializing at this year’s summit.

The New York Times published an article on July 8 headlined “It’s a Stretch, but Putin Will Add Yoga to His Repertoire,” with only a passing reference to the BRICS event as part of a “two summit meetings Russia is hosting simultaneously in Ufa that are meant to show, among other things, that Russia has friends.

In the US discourse, Russia’s actions are portrayed as a bid for cementing relations with non-Western countries following its “alienation” by the West over the Ukrainian crisis.

The New York Times also published an article on July 8 from the Reuters news wire, titled “Russia Woos China Before BRICS Summit,” which paints a picture in which Moscow is trying to attract investments from Beijing, which recently experienced a stock market dip.

According to the daily, these efforts were part of an attempt to counterbalance the effects of Western economic sanctions on the Russian economy and the over-all fall in oil prices. Again the summit is touted as an opportunity for Russia “to show it is not isolated globally”.

Again in its Wednesday briefing, The New York Times framed the BRICS summit in the context of Russia’s supposed desperation at debilitating sanctions and “amid increasing isolation from the West, hoping to strengthen relations with allies from the four emerging nations”.

But the news blurb fails to mention that this is the 7th BRICS summit, with previous venues for the annual meet held in cities such as Durban, Fortaleza and New Dehli.

Both The New York Times and the Washington Post on July 9 published an Associated Press article highlighting a meeting between Pakistani and Indian prime ministers slated to take place on the sidelines of the BRICS and the SCO summits, but did not elucidate the importance of this event for South-South multilateral and bilateral relations.

When there was an attempt at serious reporting about the Ufa BRICS Summit, it usually came disguised as scathing review.

A July 7 Brookings Institution article – “BRICS Summit: the shadow of the former self it never was” – highlighted the slowing pace of the BRICS “supposed growth engines,” citing Russia’s contracting economy (again “because of sanctions, but mostly because of the collapse of the global oil price”), Brazil’s negative growth this year, India’s need for “serious economic reforms”, China’s slower rate of growth, and South Africa’s negligible economy.

$17 trillion what?

A July 6 Bloomberg article provided a much more balanced narrative ahead of the BRICS Summit.

In “Here’s the $17 Trillion Reason Why the BRICS Summit This Week Is a Big Deal” Bloomberg pulled off a neat trick by interviewing Jim O’Neill, the economist who first coined the term BRIC in 2007.

“Despite some disappointments in some of the BRIC economies, led by China and India, their collective weight in global GDP continues to rise and therefore also does their importance,” O’Neill tells Bloomberg.

The article, while not scathing, is critical and points out the challenges that the grouping currently faces.

It concludes that despite Indian growth pushing past Russia and the Chinese overall clout, this will not translate into reducing the “voice of the other three members in the group,” since after all, the “birthmark of the BRICS is equality among members.”

The Wall Street Journal provided more in-depth reporting, covering the launch of the long-awaited BRICS New Development Bank (NBD) planned ahead of the summit in Ufa, which again was taken as a sign of Russia’s eagerness to “demonstrate it hasn’t been isolated by Western sanctions.”

The article – “Brics Launches Development Bank Ahead of Russian Summit”- goes on to discuss the function of the bank in “financing projects mainly in member countries,” and a deal between the countries’ national banks to create a “$100 billion [currency] reserve fund by the end of July that can be tapped in financial emergencies”. It says the NBD is an alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On July 10, The New York Times published an article titled “Pakistan, India Agree to Cooperate on Eliminating Terrorism” which recognized the enormity of India and Pakistan easing relations at the BRICS and SCO summits.

It highlighted how the prime ministers of both countries – now full SCO members – condemned terrorism and agreed “to cooperate with each other to eliminate the menace of terrorism from South Asia”.

By Sulafah Al Shami for The BRICS Post in New York City


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