As NATO grows, why some Russian allies are likely backing away

Click to play video: 'As NATO grows, Russian allies pull away: analyst'
As NATO grows, Russian allies pull away: analyst
WATCH: With NATO gaining members, an analyst says Russia's allies are distancing themselves from the Kremlin – Jul 12, 2023

NATO’s ranks are swelling, with Finland and Sweden joining or set to join and the alliance promising to admit Ukraine.

But Russia, who opposes Ukraine’s involvement, has allies who are set to hold their own summit in August.

South Africa has promised the meeting will go ahead – even though it is legally obligated, as a member of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to arrest Russian President Vladimir Putin if he arrives.

Putin hasn’t said whether he’ll attend. He’s also denied the ICC’s allegations that he is responsible for deporting Ukrainian children.

Click to play video: 'NATO summit: Biden, Zelenskyy and other leaders on Ukraine possibly joining alliance'
NATO summit: Biden, Zelenskyy and other leaders on Ukraine possibly joining alliance

His presence at the summit would test Russia’s allies’ allegiance to the Kremlin and international law if South Africa chooses not to follow through on its commitment as a member of the ICC.

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Yet, with the war in Ukraine passing 500 days, an analyst told Global News Russia’s friends are distancing themselves.

“None of them want to go down with a loser,” said John Kirton, a political scientist at the University of Toronto and the director of the university’s BRICS research group, referring to Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

BRICS was a cluster initially born in 2009 out of the desire to work together and counterbalance the dominance of the United States on the global stage. The countries have set up the New Development Bank to support their own growth and have discussed creating a new currency as an alternative to the American dollar.

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Ukrainians say world peace depends on its NATO membership, Russia considers it a ‘threat’

While the four BRICS members other than Russia have not condemned the invasion of Ukraine, they’ve also not come to the Kremlin’s aid.

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Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has proposed peace talks between Ukraine and Russia – albeit with a plan requiring Ukraine to cede invaded territory to Russia, which Kviv immediately refused.

India’s leader, Narendra Modi, recently met with U.S. President Joe Biden and French President Emmanuel Macron, with all three governments stating the meetings are proof of closer collaboration.

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Last year, Chinese President Xi Jinping said the two countries had a “no-limits” friendship. More recently, Xi warned Putin not to use nuclear weapons. Kirton said that’s proof Beijing is backing away from the Kremlin.

South Africa, meanwhile, initially sought to move the summit to nearby Mozambique or to China, neither of which are members of the ICC and thus have no compulsion to arrest Putin.

But it appears, Kirton said, South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa wants the prestige of hosting the summit.

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“I think that the most likely outcome is that the BRICS summit will go on with four of the five leaders attending in person, but Vladimir Putin will stay home,” Kirton said.

Putin’s remote attendance would sidestep the legal dilemma surrounding his arrest. Kirton said it also gives Putin a chance to reestablish control at home.

“If you were Vladimir Putin, after the Wagner mutiny … would you really take the chance of flying so far from your country, not quite knowing who you could trust to let you come back?”

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Wagner mutiny: What really happened and what’s next for Putin’s future?

Kyle Matthews, a Canadian Global Affairs Institute fellow who studies international law and human rights, said Putin’s apparent hesitation shows the ICC’s growing strength.

“We’re already seeing (the warrant) having an impact where Putin is wary of traveling,” he told Global News. “And I think that’s key. It puts pressure (on leaders with warrants) that they never know what will happen.”

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The warrant for Putin’s arrest was the first time the ICC issued a notice for a sitting head of state with a permanent seat on the powerful United Nations Security Council.

Matthews said that’s important since Russia could use its veto at the UN to block any investigation.

“The global system of justice is not perfect … but I would say this is a positive step,” he told Global News.

Kirton said the importance of that summit depends on whether the war is still raging – and whether Putin is still in power. Until then, he predicts the other members of the BRICS will go on with or without Putin.

– with files from Global News’ Eric Stober and Reuters

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