Over the weekend, 42 countries met in Saudi Arabia to discuss Ukraine’s 10-point peace plan. The summit wasn’t notable for what it accomplished; the countries adjourned without offering any joining statement, much less actual tangible progress toward peace. But what the summit did is demonstrate that Russia’s international diplomatic isolation is only growing as the war drags on.
Russia thinks itself the ringleader of two “alliances” meant to counter the United States, NATO, and the West. The first is the Collective Security Treaty Organization—six former Soviet Republics bound by a military alliance. The group, currently consisting of Armenia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan, was already bleeding members, having lost Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Uzbekistan over the years. The reality, of course, is that this organization was merely a Russian instrument to exercise colonial influence over its former territories.
As I noted last year, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine broke this alliance. Not only have none of the member states come to Russia’s aid (certainly not militarily, but not even diplomatically), but they all ignored Armenia’s plight during multiple invasions by Azerbaijan both last year and this one. The CSTO is effectively dead, with its member states now taking advantage of Russia’s challenges to further distance themselves from their old colonial master. China is a big beneficiary.
The second Russian-led “alliance” is BRICS‚ named after its founding members (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa). The organization is meant as a bulwark of the “Global South” against the hegemony of the Western world. In addition to its founding members, which collectively represent over one-third of the world’s population, there are pending membership applications from countries like Argentina, Bangladesh, Egypt, Indonesia, Iran, and Saudi Arabia. Other countries like Mexico, Nigeria, and Turkey have also expressed interest. Indeed, of the world’s top 10 most populated countries, nine of them are in BRICS or have expressed interest in joining.
BRICS has lofty aspirations, including developing an alternate standard currency to rival the dollar and euro. Yet BRICS has been hamstrung by competing national agendas, a lack of true unifying purpose, and infighting among its members. Russia thinks it leads this group, yet doesn’t have the economic heft to influence anything. Much of its power rested on the myth of Russian military might, but that’s gone. China is an economic powerhouse exponentially larger than any of the other members, so it has zero interest in subsuming its own national interests for that of the BRICS common good, whatever that might be (it’s still undefined). Forget agreeing on a common counter currency to the dollar or euro. No member nation will agree to adopt another country’s currency, and even if they did, the bloc doesn’t have the economic heft to force a new global standard.
BRICS may have raw population numbers, but looking at GDP, the bloc lags behind. The United States blows the rest of the world out of the water with a GDP of nearly $27 trillion, compared to China at $19.4 trillion, and third-place Japan far behind at $4.4 trillion. Here are the world’s top economies, with Western-aligned countries in bold.
United States, $26.9 trillion.
China, $19.4 trillion (BRICS).
Japan, $4.4 trillion.
Germany, $4.3 trillion.
India, $3.7 trillion (BRICS).
United Kingdom, $3.2 trillion.
France, $2.9 trillion.
Italy, $2.2 trillion.
Canada, $2.1 trillion.
Brazil, $2.1 trillion (BRICS).
Russia, $2.1 trillion (BRICS).
South Korea, $1.7 trillion.
Australia, $1.7 trillion.
Mexico, $1.7 trillion (non-aligned, BRICS-curious).
Spain, $1.5 trillion.
Indonesia, $1.4 trillion (non-aligned, BRICS-applicant).
Netherlands, $1.1 trillion.
Saudi Arabia, $1.1 trillion (non-aligned, BRICS-curious).
Turkey, $1 trillion (playing all sides).
Switzerland, $900 million.
The collective West’s economic heft is undeniable, and creates a natural backstop to any serious attempts at economic independence. When South Africa considered allowing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin to attend a BRICS summit later this month, the fear of losing foreign investment from American and European countries likely weighed heavily on their decision to rescind the invitation. Indeed, the mere appearance of South African support for Russia in the Ukraine conflict is harming its economy.
Even without further direct sanctions from Washington over the Lady R saga, the impact of South Africa’s perceived leaning towards Russia put severe negative pressure on the South African currency, which plunged to its lowest-ever value against a basket of currencies including the dollar and the euro.
International investors also took a dim view, with an enormous flight of foreign investment and a threat posed to preferential SA-US mutual trade, as well as SA-EU trade, as Washington contemplates further steps.
All the tough talk about creating alternatives to the dollar goes out the window when the mere threat of a Western economic pullback threatens local economies.
There is much to say about that outsized Western economic influence on the developing world, to be sure. The abuses are legion, and it is right for the developing world/Global South to look for alternatives. Colonial exploitation is real, and ongoing. The problem is that Russia is not a fair arbiter in this game—and neither is China, for that matter. And while BRICS counts democracies among its members and aspirants, it’s noteworthy that every single Western-aligned nation at the top of the GDP charts is a stable democracy, while a great number of BRICS aspirants are totalitarian or repressive regimes.
None of this is simple or black and white, as Russia is finding out.
This weekend’s Ukrainian peace summit in Saudi Arabia was attended by Ukraine’s Western allies, but there was sizable representation from Global South nations. Saudi Arabia hosted the event. All of the BRICS countries, sans Russia, attended. Chile, Mexico, Zambia, Egypt, and others were present.
But it was China that stole the show, the same China that once declared a “friendship with no boundaries” with Russia … mere days before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The summit created a series of working groups tackling various elements of Ukraine’s peace proposal, but nothing seemed more impactful than China’s assertion that the summit helped “consolidate international consensus" toward a peaceful resolution to the war. China didn’t just send a delegation to the gathering, but their envoy was a former ambassador to Russia.
Li "had extensive contact and communication with all parties on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis... listened to all sides' opinions and proposals, and further consolidated international consensus," the foreign ministry said in a written statement to Reuters.
To be clear, China hasn’t turned on Russia. And even if it did, that would still not be enough to force Russia out of Ukraine. But it adds to the bunker-siege mentality in Moscow, isolated as Russia’s supposed friends talk to its enemies. China was literally hobnobbing with U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan and the Ukrainian delegation. And to add further insult, a European Union source told The Guardian that China “participated actively and was positive about the idea of a third meeting at this level.” The excitement from Western and Ukrainian attendees was palpable and real.
Meanwhile, Putin can’t even attend BRICS summits, much less exert any influence or control over its members. Its CSTO alliance is dead in the water. And Russia’s propagandists are well aware of their international isolation.
Whatever dreams Putin had of leading an international alliance against Western military and economic hegemony is dead. Too bad it’s not enough for him to call it quits.
Russian aircraft have harassed the Ukrainian advance, which is ammunition for those claiming that Ukraine can’t be expected to succeed without its own airpower. Yet these Russian losses prove why combat airpower has limited utility in this conflict.
We don’t have images of this wreckage, so it’s not in the Oryx database, but that one already includes 39 downed Ka-52s. Russia started the war with 90 of them. Given that many of these losses would happen behind Russian lines and away from video evidence, it’s clear that Russia has lost over half its fleet, and that’s with limited usage, mostly launching unguided rockets from friendly territory. Furthermore, the bulk of these were downed with shoulder-fired man-portable anti-air missiles. Russia is swarming with those as well.
It’s not mentioned often, but even drones have scant survivability over the Ukrainian battlefield, with most getting shot down by their third or fourth mission. The air is thick with anti-air systems, and anything approaching the front lines is in dire danger.
That’s why F-16s won’t make a direct impact on the front lines, handling other critical tasks (like hopefully chasing the Russian Black Sea Fleet away from their Sevastopol Crimean home base). Currently, most of the damage from the air (on both sides) is being done by surveillance drones guiding artillery fire to their targets, and suicide drones directly destroying men and equipment at the front lines.
The first batch of Abrams tanks that the US is providing to Ukraine was approved for shipment over the weekend, and the tanks are on track to arrive in Ukraine by early fall, Army Acquisition Chief Doug Bush said on Monday.
That’s next month.
Russia launched a barrage of cruise missiles and drones targeting Ukrainian military air bases over the weekend. It was a surprising change of tactics—trying to do military harm as opposed to murdering helpless civilians.
Well, that didn’t last long.