Brazil, Russia and the Crimea: BRICS grouping serves interests of two greatest authoritarian states, as three great democracies ignore aggression

Developing

If you want to understand why the future of the international political and legal order is fraught with uncertainty, consider Brazil’s position on the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

The so-called “BRICS”, a term originally developed by foreign investors to identify the largest emerging economies, have met in Brazil and agreed to establish an investment bank which some of them fancy might come to rival the IMF. The group is comprised of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

This group is a monumental credit to the cynical opportunism of the two greatest authoritarian states in the world, and their ability to take advantage of the naivete and vain nationalism of three of the world’s great democracies in the developing world.

The grouping has already paid dividends to the authoritarians, with the abstention of Brazil, India, and South Africa in the vote on the General Assembly resolution condemning–in the absolute mildest of terms–the Russian invasion and annexation of the Crimea.

The calculus of the authoritarians is clear: gain access to greater trade and commercial benefits while at the same time building support among Brazil, India and South Africa to abstain or not object to military aggression and violation of human rights.

The calculation on the side of India has a strategic dimension: to foster ties with Russia which has traditionally served as a counterweight to China and Pakistan, while at the same also building ties to China. Having itself invaded and annexed the Portuguese enclave of Goa in 1961, India may also not be in the best position to criticize Russia for the invasion and annexation of the Crimea. Worsening relations with the United States may also be playing a role, following the extraordinarily ill-considered and inept arrest in the U.S. of an Indian consular official last year in a case involving her former housekeeper.

As for Brazil, which already enjoys strong trade relationships with China, it is hard to understand what advantages its leaders hope to gain through the “BRICS” grouping, other than to thumb their noses at the United States, which has angered government officials by its spying activities. These caused President Dilma Roussef to cancel a state visit to Washington last fall, and are a continuing source of anger against the U.S.

Why Brazil would turn its head the other way in view of China’s and Russia’s human rights violations, particularly given Brazil’s own history in this regard and the fact that Rousseff was herself directly affected, defies logic.

Similarly, given the fact that Brazil fought in Europe alongside the Allies to defeat Hitler and German aggression and annexation of foreign territories, it is difficult to understand why Brazil now would find itself in the position of explaining to the world why it cannot take a position on as simple a question as Russian aggression in the Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea. The reasons given by the Itamaraty (foreign ministry) officials cited by Clovis Rossi in his column in the Folha de São Paulo today (see below) amount to no more than a pathetic parroting of Russian propaganda.

Brazil should be careful, however, as the president of Russia, Vladimir Putin, has just concluded a nuclear cooperation agreement with Argentina during his visit to Buenos Aires. Given the deteriorating international situation and the likelihood of further nuclear proliferation, starting with Iran, the possibility of a renewed nuclear arms race between Argentina and Brazil cannot entirely be ruled out.

It is a terrible shame that Brazil, India, and South Africa have failed to stand solidly on the side of those defending the fundamental principles of the United Nations Charter, including the prohibition of the threat or use of force, in order to pursue the chimera of solidarity with the world’s two greatest authoritarian states.

The United States has failed utterly in managing its alliance relationships in Latin America, as the actions of Brazil reveal. It hasn’t done so well in managing its alliance relationships with Europe and the NATO countries either, as demonstrated by French President François Hollande’s breaking the isolation of Putin by inviting him to the 70th anniversary celebration of the Normandy invasion, then a state dinner at the Elysée Palace (meeting Barack Obama earlier in the evening at a restaurant), and at the same time announcing that France would complete the sale of two Mistral-class warships to Russia beginning in the fall, over the strenuous objections of the U.S. and several other NATO countries. Russian sailors are already training in France to learn how to operate the vessels, one of which is to be named “The Sevastopol” and both of which, while initially destined for Pacific ports, could eventually be based in the Russian-occupied Ukrainian port of Sevastopol.

For her part, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has effectively blocked the imposition of third-stage sanctions against Russia, however earnestly and with whatever peremptory deadlines threats of their adoption may have been made.

The failure of the EU and of the U.S. to follow through on serious sanctions against Russia, as it continues its “stealth invasion” (with less and less stealth), has also done little to underline the importance of fundamental U.N. Charter principles and the need to uphold them, in particular by imposing serious and permanent sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimea.

But this is no excuse for India, South Africa, and Brazil. By their actions and statements, they have demonstrated that they are not ready to play leading roles in the building and maintenance of international peace and security. To reach that level, they will need to move beyond reacting to the U.S. and Europe, and themselves assume, independently, responsibility for the building and protection of international society. This they can never do by ignoring grave violations of the U.N. Charter’s fundamental norms.

Brazil is to be congratulated for holding a magnificent and successful 2014 FIFA World Cup series.

That is no substitute, however, for taking ownership of its responsibilities as a great democracy to uphold international human rights and the prohibition of the threat or use of force across international frontiers.

See

Clóvis Rossi, “Dilma e os dois lados da Ucrânia,” Folha de São Paulo, 15 de julho 2014.

The Trenchant Observer

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"The Trenchant Observer" is edited and published by The Observer, an international lawyer who has taught International Law, Human Rights, and Comparative Law at major U.S. universities, including Harvard, Brandeis, the University of Pittsburgh, and the University of Kansas. He is a former staff attorney at the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States (IACHR), where he was in charge of Brazil, Haiti, Mexico and the United States, and also worked on complaints from and reports on other countries including Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. As an international development expert, he has worked on Rule of Law, Human Rights, and Judicial Reform in a number of countries in Latin America, the Caribbean, Africa, the Middle East, South Asia, and the Russian Federation. In the private sector, The Observer has worked as an international attorney for a leading national law firm and major global companies, on joint ventures and other matters in a number of countries in Europe (including Russia and the Ukraine), throughout Latin America and the Caribbean, and in Australia, Indonesia, Vietnam, China and Japan. The Trenchant Observer blog provides an unfiltered international perspective for news and opinion on current events, in their historical context, drawing on a daily review of leading German, French, Spanish and English newspapers as well as the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, and other American newspapers, and on sources in other countries relevant to issues being analyzed. The Observer speaks fluent English, French, German, Portuguese and Spanish, and also knows other languages. He holds an S.J.D. or Doctor of Juridical Science in International Law from Harvard University, and a Doctor of Law (J.D.) and a Master of the Science of Law (J.S.M.), from Stanford University. As an undergraduate, he received a Bachelor of Arts degree, also from Stanford, where he graduated “With Great Distinction” (summa cum laude) and received the James Birdsall Weter Prize for the best Senior Honors Thesis in History. In addition to having taught as a Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School, The Observer has been a Visiting Scholar at Harvard University's Center for International Affairs (CFIA). His fellowships include a Stanford Postdoctoral Fellowship in Law and Development, the Rómulo Gallegos Fellowship in International Human Rights awarded by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, and a Harvard MacArthur Fellowship in International Peace and Security. Beyond his articles in The Trenchant Observer, he is the author of two books and numerous scholarly articles on subjects of international and comparative law. Currently he is working on a manuscript drawing on the best articles that have appeared in the blog.