Sanctions-hit Russia welcomes Brics leaders

Brics leaders (from left): Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, India's Narendra Modi, Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping and South Africa's Jacob Zuma.
Brics leaders (from left): Brazil's Dilma Rousseff, India's Narendra Modi, Russia's Vladimir Putin, China's Xi Jinping and South Africa's Jacob Zuma. PHOTO: REUTERS

Moscow hopes meeting of emerging powers will dispel perceptions of its isolation

UFA (Russia) • Russian President Vladimir Putin has welcomed the leaders of emerging powers for a summit which Moscow hopes will show that the country is not isolated despite the stand-off with the West over Ukraine.

Held this year in the city of Ufa, 1,100km east of Moscow, the summit began yesterday following a day of bilateral meetings between Mr Putin and the other leaders.

"I won't hide that we are especially happy to see our friends from China," Mr Putin told Chinese President Xi Jinping in a meeting ahead of the talks.

"We are well aware of the difficulties we have to face economically and in global politics, but by joining efforts we will without a doubt overcome all problems."

Mr Xi reciprocated, saying that the two countries should use the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) as a key platform to integrate China's Silk Road initiatives and Russia's aspirations under the Eurasian Economic Union framework, the China Daily reported.

The SCO meeting is taking place alongside the Brics summit.

This is the second meeting between the two leaders in two months, and Sino-Russia ties look set to get even closer with Mr Xi confirming an invitation for Mr Putin to visit China in September and attend the country's activities commemorating the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.

Ahead of the summit, Mr Putin also met Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South Africa's President Jacob Zuma and was expected to speak with Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff after hosting a dinner with the Brics leaders. Iranian President Hassan Rouhani is also expected to meet Mr Putin.

The Kremlin sees Brics - a group of emerging economies comprising Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa - as a growing economic and political influence to challenge Western hegemony.

Moscow's ties with Brics have become more vital amid the damage inflicted on Russia's economy by Western sanctions and Mr Putin's exclusion from the Group of Eight gathering, which met last month as the G-7.

Brics "illustrates a new polycentric system of international relations" demonstrating the increasing influence of "new centres of power", Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in a statement.

But critics say that while the summit is symbolically important for Russia, Brics is not a strong political force due to the different agendas and priorities of its members.

The summit is "compensation for 1 1/2 years of a diplomatic blockade", wrote Mr Alexander Gabuyev of the Carnegie Moscow Centre, adding that Russia is "likely alone in its euphoria" about the talks.

Among the tangible results of Brics' emergence was the launch of the Brics bank on Tuesday, which will finance infrastructure projects in member states and developing countries. The bank starts funding proposals next year, said Russian Finance Minister Anton Siluanov.

Sanctions have cut off access to Western borrowing for Russia, and Mr Siluanov said companies like oil giant Rosneft may now turn to the Brics bank for funding, but he ruled out any bailout loans to Greece.

Thirsty for cash, recession-hit Russia has also been asking China to lift existing restrictions on Chinese investors participating in foreign financial markets, Mr Siluanov said. "We are talking about gradual lifting of barriers for investing by Chinese financial institutes... it would help develop the economy of our two countries."

In a major boost to trade with India, Rosneft on Wednesday signed a deal with the Essar group to supply 100 million tonnes of oil over the next decade to a refinery in Vadinar in India.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 10, 2015, with the headline 'Sanctions-hit Russia welcomes Brics leaders'. Print Edition | Subscribe