Russia has been searching for new alliances against the Western Bloc for a long time, especially articulated to balance NATO’s self-encirclement policy in the security field. These are manifested in regional and global partnerships as observed for the first time in early July. In Asia, Russia is in an advantageous position after Iran’s full admission into the SCO. While Iran is strengthening its position as the ninth member of the organization, it also indicates a geopolitical axis change. The second significant development is strengthening ties between Africa and Russia.
Since the beginning of the Russia-Ukraine War in February 2022 in which the former and the West face each other in the international arena, Russia’s attempts to create alternative cooperation and partnerships have become remarkable. Particularly, after Western sanctions, Russia tried to tighten its bounds with new alternatives and collaborations. The Shanghai Five was founded in 1996 and later evolved into the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in 2001. With the participation of Russia, China, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, the SCO has played a significant role in the region since then. In fact, the SCO is one of the Russian moves against Western policies that try to limit Russia in international politics. After the Wagner mutiny on the 23rd and 24th of June, it was almost commonly thought that Russia would have a rough time ahead. At the same time, while the West experienced a sense of schadenfreude, celebrating this exhilarating mutiny, the 23rd summit of the SCO was held.
The reason it was historic is undoubtedly not because the 4th of July coincides with American Independence Day but because Iran was admitted as the ninth member. Furthermore, Belarus is set to become a member of SCO in 2024 after signing a memorandum of obligations during a virtual summit hosted by India on July 4, 2023. With this membership, the SCO is going to become an organization that extends its scope of operations in Eurasia.
At this point, when the U.S. attempts to isolate the economies of China, Russia and Iran, the economic potential of the SCO, which constitutes approximately 20% of the global gross domestic product (GDP) and a quarter of the world’s population, is phenomenal. Iran’s full membership has been a strategic move of the SCO in this respect and certainly, it is also a critical step for Russia.
Indeed, in the face of Western sanctions, Russia strengthens its global position and regional partnerships. From this perspective, one can grasp that the creation of the SCO marked Russia’s initial move toward undermining Western sanctions.
The second step relates to Russia-Africa relations. In July, we also witnessed another summit, which took place shortly after the SCO summit: the 2nd African Summit, held in St. Petersburg. From July 27 to 28, African leaders met at the Expo Forumin St. Petersburg to enhance relations with Russia. This was the second summit after the first in Sochi in 2019.
Russian influence in Africa
A spokesperson for the Kremlin, Dmitry Peskov, has criticized Western countries for attempting to prevent African leaders from attending the Russia-Africa Summit. Official representatives of at least 45 of 54 African countries attended the Summit. Despite these obstacles, Russia’s influence on Africa is critical because of Russia’s assurance to erase some African countries’ debts and give free grain. In this respect, the most significant agenda item of the summit was food safety.
Furthermore, currently, Africa is experiencing a significant shift in geopolitical balance. Especially considering the influence of the West and France in the region, an Africa under Russian influence means limiting energy and underground resources for the West. As a recent example, Niger, the world’s seventh-largest supplier of uranium, is vital for France and the West. Also, in Niger, thousands of Nigeriens in favor of the coup demonstrated against opponents that complained about France’s intervention, a modern form of colonialism. In this respect, the geopolitical axis changes against the West are being reshaped due to Russian diplomatic steps in Asia and Africa.
Remarkably, Russia’s third political step is the decision taken at the 15th BRICS Summit held in South Africa on Aug. 22-24 and the announcement of new members. The BRICS Summit addressed two significant agendas and sent a strong message to world leaders. The first agenda is undoubtedly enlargement with new member admissions. The United Arab Emirates (UAE), Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran, Argentina and Ethiopia will officially become BRICS members on Jan. 1, 2024. This step is the first and the most significant expansion move since 2010. The second topic on the agenda was economic cooperation and the use of an alternative currency instead of the U.S. dollar.
Iran, energy issue
Brazilian President Lula da Silva announced that a working group has been established to develop a reference currency. The standard message given after these two agendas is the declaration of the global presence of BRICS, which has the potential to take its place as a new bloc against the West.
In the context of energy power, the membership of Iran as an energy power and Russia, one of the world’s largest oil exporters, is considerable.
Iran’s SCO membership was a crucial geopolitical move, but it gained even more strength through BRICS. Likewise, Egypt is among the largest economies in the Middle East region. To gather all these examples, after the enlargement, the power of BRICS will increase in two ways. On the one hand, countries with huge energy resources sit on a united platform, and on the other, it can play a determining role in the global economic arena. In this respect, the BRICS can position itself against the G-7 and the U.S. and stand against the current global power structure.
Consequently, Russia has taken a step to strengthen its efforts to establish a multipolar system by creating a new bloc against the West. Certainly, these three political moves are considered Moscow’s counterbalance acts against geostrategic moves to isolate Russia in the international system and to exclude it from the sanctions imposed. In a nutshell, these outcomes benefit Russia and signal a significant shift in geopolitics. Especially the decision taken after the BRICS Summit and the future steps to be taken, it is clear that it creates “another BRICS in the wall” that affects the world system.
*Assoc. professor and the vice chair of the IR Department at Kırıkkale University