One day BRICS will challenge the Western dominance in the world - Indian author Nihal Singh
Ukraine's crisis sent triples across the globe. As Western states slap sanctions on Russia calling for Moscow's isolation the countries of the BRICS are throwing their support behind one of their members. Will the crisis in Ukraine be the spur to turn the world order around? Can the BRICS countries mount a challenge to western dominance? An Indian journalist Nihal Singh joins us on SophieCo to help us find answers to that question.
Sophie Shevardnadze:And here in the studio is Indian journalist Nihal Singh. Thank you very much for being with us today. We are going to start from the UN General Assembly vote. They were condemning Crimea's referendum - India has abstained. Earlier the Russian President thanked India for its take on Crimea. What is making India so supportive of Russia on this issue?
Nihal Singh: I think Indian attitude is that Russia is a friend of India - that is point one. Secondly, obviously, as a nation state it is made mindful of its sovereignty and integrity. There are particular circumstances in which this drama has happened. And I think India is very conscious of that. And that is the cause of the abstention in the UN nations.
SS: But I remember the Indian position on the conflict with Georgia in 2008 was restrained. But this time New Delhi has supported Moscow openly saying Russia has legitimate interest in Crimea. What is different this time? What has changed over the years?
NS: Well, I think the realization that this was a geostrategic challenge presented to Russia by the West - the United States and the European Union. I think it was a clear case of containing the Russian Federation. To the extent that you have a nation of 45 million which is the underbelly of the Russian Federation. And you go ahead and try to co-opt it to the West. So in real terms it was a challenge to Russian interests.
SS:So are you saying India is less worried of going against the West?
NS: Well, I think that which have of course commented on in several pieces that this was really a challenge, and against the background of what the West has done to the Russian Federation after the breakup of the Soviet Union, and as everybody knows the various promises made to Russia under German reunification for instance and later in terms of not bringing NATO around Russia and the Balkans and in Poland. All these promises that were not fulfilled. So what is Russia to make of it?
SS: But what does India have to do with it? I am just trying to figure out the main reason for such a strong support. Is it economic or really politics?
NS: No, I think, it is basically political. Because, I suggest that India considers Russia the friend. And, I think it is mindful of the real geopolitical interests of the Russian Federation. And I think India’s view, although not articulated as such, was that it was in order that Moscow tries to counter these moves which are detrimental to Russian national interests. It is as simple as that, I think
SS: There is so much cooperation between Moscow and Delhi going on on all levels. Is the West becoming less important for India compared to Russia?
NS: No, I think the West is important to India especially, the United States for various reasons, I mean whether it’s trade or… of course India has a very substantial military relationship with Russia now and the Soviet Union in the past. So it is a very important element of India's military muscle. But West is important in terms of technology, modern technology, we also are importing high level armaments from the United States and Europe up to a point. So it is also an important element of the relationship. But I think in this particular instance what New Delhi is concerned about is the attempt to isolate the Russian Federation. I think India does not agree with that.
SS:We also hear the words “international community” very often in regards to condemnation of this particular crisis. But as this latest General Assembly vote on Crimea indicates those who abstained or voted with Russia represent a huge percentage of the world's population. Do you feel the positions of countries like India are ignored with this “catch-all” term?
NS: I think, many countries are worried about the integrity angle, because many countries or many parts of the world are vulnerable on that count. The energy the Russians have given in terms of Kosovo – well, it is an arguable point. I think, to play on the safe side, there is of course a lot of Western pressure, as you can imagine, in terms of vote in General Assembly. But otherwise I think the integrity angle is an important one for most countries.
SS: So you've written that China abstention in the United Nation security council of Russia's policy in Crimea raises disturbing questions. What exactly are they?
NS: The disturbing questions - basically is a question of, again, is a nation state not entitled to protect itself, in terms of its territorial limits? Now, there again you see an arguable point. As I said the Kosovo analogy is interesting. But I don't think it convinces everybody and, hence this difference.
SS: And in regards to Ukraine you've said it is difficult to see how one half of the country with its deep attachment to Russia, can live wedded to an anti-Russian orientation in the other. But doesn't India deal with a very similar situation as well?
NS: Well India has problems in the north-east, and of course there is this perennial problem of Kashmir, but India deals with it in terms of trying to integrate these areas, where there is a matter of difference of opinions and divisions among the population of the particular areas; but, I think, in Crimea’s case, to begin with, of course as everybody knows it was part of the Soviet Union and it was Khrushchev who gifted it to what was then a part of the Soviet Union, which was the Ukrainian Republic, and if you have a population of nearly 60% ethnic Russians, you have a major warm water base for your Black Sea Fleet, and then you have West which is maneuvering Kiev in terms of seeking to coopt it within the Western set up – then obviously there are problems for Russia, I mean it’s going to react, which is what I have been suggesting: that you can’t threaten the basic interests of the Russian Federation, and expect that there will not be a reaction. Of course, despite the consequences this is a major question of geopolitics, because the Russian Federation cannot be at the mercy of the West in terms of its base: whether it will stay there, how long it will stay there; and it is obviously a question of possible blackmail, so for a variety of reasons, I think, in my view it is clear that the Russian state would take firm action in terms of coopting the maneuvers of the Western powers in this particular instance, and I think that is what they did. We all know how during Boris Yeltsin’s time he was made a folk hero by the West, and they mocked all over him, and all over the Russian Federation. And then they coopt despite their promises, which now they say were suggestions and are not real promises, and so on, they coopted Poland into NATO, they coopted Baltic States into NATO – so this was a last of the major jigsaw puzzles which they wanted to complete, in my view.
SS:But if we put aside the power struggle between the West and Russia and also put aside the Crimean instance, we are talking about Ukraine and what is left of it right now. There is still a deep divide between the East and the West. What do you think could be the best solution for a country to stay together?
NS: I think there has to be a recognition in Kiev that you have one half of Ukraine – onto the mainland Ukraine, the South and the East, which is pro-Russian in terms of tradition and in terms of religion, in terms of folklore, in terms of orientation, trade and so on, which is not being represented today in this interim set up. So the only statement that I have seen from the Interim Prime Minister is telling the people in the East and the South that “we will give you the widest autonomy”. But basically they are not representative of the one half of the country as things stand today.
SS:Mr Singh, India said it recognizes Russia's legitimate interests in Ukraine. Why do you think that the EU and the US never considered the same approach?
NS: I thought they believe that they had won the Cold War and that since Russia was in a weaker position in their view, they thought they could get away with it and complete the jigsaw puzzle as they see it.
SS: President Obama said in Brussels, that everyone has the right to live the life they choose. So we can't help to wonder, why do you think he does not extend this right to those in Crimea?
NS: He is arguing from a narrow point of view: he’s arguing that the Constitution of Ukraine does not provide for this kind of a thing without the blessings of Kiev. That is his argument. Of course there again get the question of possible analogy takes the scene and the Russians have been making the point of that. So you had two views on that and Obama is stressing one particular kind of view.
SS:With the issue of Crimea right now, does Ukraine stand a chance of entering the EU?
NS: I think they are being little cautious at the moment, because as you know they say that they have signed this agreement but kept certain provisions of it in advance, because they say “let the elections be true and then we shall negotiate the other parts of the agreement or bringing to fruition the other parts of the agreement”. But I think the attempt of the EU would be to make Ukraine a member of the European Union. That seems to be intent.
SS: After everything that has happened did this in the end leave Russia in a stronger position on the international arena or just the opposite?
NS: No, itis an indication, firstly, that Russia is going to fight for its basic core interests. That is point one that Russia has made. There is going to be a chill in East-West relations as we are seeing every day for the last few weeks. That will continue for some time. I think the West understands that what is happening in Crimea, whatever they think about it, is irreversible. And the whole effort seems to be to suggest that Russia should not go into the Ukrainian main land. To my mind, I don't think Russia is interested in going in unless there is a cataclysm. So in a sense Russia is in a stronger position in terms of its ability and its demonstration that if the West is going to harm the basic interests of Moscow - Moscow will fight for its interests. And it has shown that.
SS: But what about its suspension from the G8, do you think Russia will feel the consequences?
NS: I think, there will be consequences. Which we have seen, some of them. The sanctions seem to be more cosmetic then real in real terms. Of course they have threatened more consequences. What had surprised me in this whole episode or series of episodes I would say is that I thought the German chancellor Angela Merkel was more sober than she proved to be. She is rather hard-lined and I thought that, firstly, as a Russian speaker and, secondly, as having lived in the former East Germany, that she had a greater sense of Russian interests and Russian psychology. And it surprised me a bit that she is being so hard in terms of her comments.
SS: All right. But as far as Russia suspension from the G8 goes, do you think that it's going to be a real blow to Russia or is the membership of the G20 where the economies on the rise have more say, is more important?
NS: Well, G8 was a symbolic thing and it was supposed to be prestige issue for Moscow that is point 1. Point 2 is obviously G20 has its importance, and the fact Russia would no longer be at least for some time to come a member of the G8, I think that that will make G20 more interesting in terms of Russian reactions on major world events.
SS: The BRICS countries have supported Russia’s participation in the upcoming G20 meeting and it is contrary to a proposition from Australia. Will we see a rift within the G20 caused by the Crimea crisis?
NS: There might be tensions up to a point but I don't think that the world can do away with the institutions like G20 because it is a rather representative one. And that expresses one of the things that the UN Security Council as it is constituted does not represent today, as everybody knows. And everybody talks about the reform of the UN permanent membership of the UN Security Council. As we know there are too many Western interests preventing it from happening. So there we are. I mean this one of the few more representative organizations of the world so to that extent it's important, yes.
SS: But if we talk about the BRICS, there is problem inside the block, the conflict between India and China for instance. How the partnership evolves taking in account the conflicts inside?
NS: Obviously, there are conflicts between India and China, and there are the conflicts in the interests amongst some of the other countries. But that is part of geopolitics, part of the world. And to the extent that countries with differences like India and China meet at a certain forum and discuss issues, to that extent, I think is a helpful thing for better understanding between two countries and among the other countries as well.
SS: But can the BRICS countries that are already coming up with the alternative to IMF really change the world’s economy dependence on the dollar?
NS: That is a longer-term project because as you know the Yuan is gaining in prominence, the Chinese currency. Euro is not a substitute but it is also a substantial international currency now and getting more so. It will take time to replace the dollar, I think.
SS: Some say BRICS is not a club of friendship between countries but it's really a club of friendship against the West. Is BRICS block available of becoming a valid counter balance for post-war Western domination?
NS: That is the hope of several countries, especially with the emerging ones. But I don't think that one can say that with any great confidence at the moment, the way things are. It has a potential, but I don't think it is the instant potential.
SS: But the BRICS countries, they are not as united on some issues as the NATO for example. What is the reason for that?
NS: Because of their varied interests, because of their national interests colliding, like
India-China on the border for instance, and the other major interests, I mean, among the G20 countries. So, unless you can resolve those basic problems, there are limitations on how far they can go. I mean as BRICS.
SS: So will they soon be able to overcome those differences?
NS: Well I hope in course of time. Not in a hurry I think.
SS:Or else how will they be a real alternative to the Western organizations and western domination, right?
NS: At the moment there is focal point I think, as far as the rest of the world is concerned, the non-Western world we shall say. The focal point at one time used to beNon-Alignment as you know, but has dissipated, I would say, overtime because of the historical reasons and some other factors. And you have emerging countries which want to unite on particular issues, but they also had differences, on several issues. So it is a question of reconciling the differences and grasping the themes that unites these countries. So it is a process which is going on. And it will take time, I think.
SS: But what would you say unites these countries. What is that one thing that holds them together?
NS: One thing is hope and prosperity. The prospect of better times. The fact that there are no specific centers of power, which outweigh other centers of power. These are these issues that unite these countries, I think.
SS: Thank you very much for this interview. We are talking to veteran Indian journalist Nihal Singh. We are talking about the situation in Crimea and the future for the BRICS countries, what holds them together and whether can they represent a real counter balance to Western domination in the future.