Russian foreign minister set for BRICS meet in South Africa with war in Ukraine on agenda

AP , Thursday 1 Jun 2023

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov was meeting in South Africa with counterparts from the BRICS economic bloc of developing nations for discussions Thursday that will start with “an exchange of views” on major geopolitical issues, including the war in Ukraine, South Africa's ambassador to the bloc said.

Foreign Minsters of BRICS
Ma ZHaoxu, deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of China (L), Mauro Viera, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Brazil (2nd L), Naledi Pandor, South African Minister of International Relations and Cooperation (C), Sergei Lavrov, Minister of Foreign Affairs of Russia (2nd R), and Subrahmanyam Jaishanker, Minister of Foreign Affairs of India, pose for photos at the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) Foreign Ministers Meeting on June 01, 2023, in Cape Town. AFP


Most of the BRICS countries differ sharply from the position of the U.S. and its Western allies on the war. Speaking ahead of the meeting, the South African ambassador, Anil Sooklal, referred to the West's military aid to Ukraine as one of the things that “fuels the conflict.”

“Any endeavor that fuels the conflict does not solve the problem," Sooklal said when asked for his reaction to Western “attempts” to transfer weapons to Ukraine.

“We do not know of any global conflict that has been solved though war,” he said. “All it does is cause more pain and suffering and, as BRICS countries, this is what we are saying: Let’s focus on finding a peaceful resolution to the challenges, rather than fueling the conflict.”

The BRICS bloc is made of up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. The meeting of foreign ministers Thursday is a precursor to a larger BRICS summit scheduled for August in Johannesburg.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has been invited to attend the summer summit, but it's unclear if he will. A visit by the Russian leader would put huge diplomatic pressure on South Africa. The country is a signatory to the treaty of the International Criminal Court, which has issued an arrest warrant for Putin on allegations of war crimes for the abduction of children from Ukraine.

South Africa has not clearly stated its position on executing the warrant. Rather, the government has said that it is taking legal advice on its options, a move seen by critics as an attempt to find a way out of its clear obligation to arrest Putin as a signatory to the international court's treaty.

Allowing Putin to travel freely for the summit would likely further strain South Africa's relationship with the West following U.S. allegations that South Africa has provided Russia with weapons for its war in Ukraine. South Africa has denied the allegation.

Lavrov had official talks in at least three African countries on his way to South Africa, and his participation was clearly central to the BRICS talks taking place at a luxury Cape Town hotel that looks out over the South Atlantic Ocean.

Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who was expected to attend, sent his deputy instead, South Africa's foreign ministry said, but all the other foreign ministers were present.

The expansion of the BRICS bloc, and with it a possible strengthening of Russian and Chinese political and economic influence, is also a key topic for discussion, both at the meeting of the foreign ministers and the main BRICS summit in August.

Sooklal said that more than 20 countries had “formally or informally” requested to join the BRICS bloc, among them Saudi Arabia, Iran and the United Arab Emirates, who had submitted official requests.

A bloc containing China, Russia and three of the largest oil-producing nations in the world could be seen as a direct economic challenge to the U.S., some analysts have said, as well as providing some sort of counter to the Group of Seven advanced economies.

With South Africa as the current chair of BRICS, Sooklal said he had prepared a report on possible new members and the process to admit them. That report will go to Lavrov and the other foreign ministers for them to give “guidance” on how to move forward with any expansion.

Foreign ministers from at least 15 other countries from the Global South were invited to a second BRICS meeting in Cape Town on Friday. Sooklal said one of the bloc's stated aims was to address “the major fault lines in the geopolitical front and the economic front” that was partly caused by an outdated international system.

“This is what BRICS has been championing since its founding," Sooklal said. “That we need a reformed, transformed multilateral system, one that speaks to the current challenges that we are facing and one that is inclusive and that is fair and just and does not marginalize the majority of the global population."

“The majority of the Global South feels that our institutions need reform and that their voices are also equally heard within this context.”

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