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Putin’s BRICS allies reject sanctions, condemn West's ‘hostile language’

Russian President Vladimir Putin addresses the Federal Assembly, including State Duma deputies, members of the Federation Council, regional governors and civil society representatives, at the Kremlin in Moscow March 18, 2014.

Maxim Shemetov/REUTERS

Suspended from the G8 and facing the weight of Western sanctions, Russia president Vladimir Putin need not feel lonely. He is still welcome in one prominent club of nations: the BRICS group.

His allies in the five-member bloc of nations – including China, India, Brazil and South Africa – are refusing to abandon him. Their foreign ministers met on Monday in The Hague and announced that they rejected the use of sanctions in the Ukraine crisis.

The bloc also criticized the suggestion that Russia should be suspended from the G20 summit this year. The summit is due to be held in Brisbane in November, and the host Australian government has hinted that Mr. Putin might be banned from attending.

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The statement by the BRICS ministers makes clear that the leading nations in the developing world have no appetite for the Western attempts to apply heavy pressure on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea.

While the statement did not mention Russia by name, its criticism of sanctions was aimed at the United States, Canada and the European Union, which have imposed sanctions on Russian officials in recent days. It also seemed to refer to Russia's counter-sanctions against a handful of U.S. officials.

"The escalation of hostile language, sanctions and counter-sanctions, and force does not contribute to a sustainable and peaceful solution, according to international law, including the principles and purposes of the United Nations Charter," the statement said.

"BRICS countries agreed that the challenges that exist within the regions of the BRICS countries must be addressed within the fold of the United Nations in a calm and level– headed manner."

The nations said they noted "with concern" the proposal to use the G20 summit as another weapon in the crisis. No single member of the G20 can "unilaterally" make its decisions, they said.

The BRICS group of nations was originally an economic club, but it has gradually moved into political and security issues, becoming in many ways a counter-weight to Western-dominated blocs such as the G8 and G20.

Within the BRICS nations, there are private disagreements over Russia's conduct in Ukraine. Countries such as China, strongly opposed to the independence of Tibet and Taiwan, are reluctant to endorse a unilateral Russian-imposed change to Ukraine's borders.

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But since the Ukraine crisis began, Russia's partners in BRICS have all taken great pains to remain studiously neutral, refusing to criticize Mr. Putin's actions in any way.

In a speech in the Kremlin last week, Mr. Putin praised China and India for their support. "We are grateful to the people of China, whose leadership sees the situation in Crimea in all its historical and political integrity," he said. "We highly appreciate India's restraint and objectivity."

Canadian citizenship and immigration minister Chris Alexander, a former Canadian diplomat in Moscow, rejected any suggestion that the BRICS nations were tacitly supporting Russia. He noted that the BRICS statement had also opposed "force," which he interpreted as a criticism of Russia's actions. In a series of tweets on Monday, he said the statement had "damned" Mr. Putin with "faint praise."

But a different interpretation was offered by Roland Paris, an international affairs expert at the University of Ottawa. He said the BRICS statement was "definitely" not supporting the West's actions in the Ukraine crisis, and its vague reference to "force" was "far from a condemnation of Russia's actions."

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About the Author
Africa Bureau Chief

Geoffrey York is The Globe and Mail's Africa correspondent.He has been a foreign correspondent for the newspaper since 1994, including seven years as the Moscow Bureau Chief and seven years as the Beijing Bureau Chief.He is a veteran war correspondent who has covered war zones since 1992 in places such as Somalia, Sudan, Chechnya, Iraq and Afghanistan. More

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