When Russia was arbitrarily excluded from the ‘Group of eight’ (G8) in 2014, many in the West saw this as a step toward a more cohesive western bloc – the so-called G7 – that could collectively – and effectively – counter Russia through a homogenous response combining economic and military means. The response the West gave to Russia’s military operation has not been unexpected, but there is little denying that – especially, with the war continuing and the West coming under a lot of economic pressure – the response has become internally defeatist. This was clearly manifested through the most recent G7 summit held in Germany, where ‘powerful’ western leaders met against the backdrop of the striking failure of the overall package of their anti-Russia policy – sanctions, supply of weapons to Ukraine, and vows to extend ‘unlimited’ support to Ukraine, etc. The Russian military continues to consolidate its gains, with the Russian currency, too, gaining against the USD. The fact the Russian currency is much stronger than western hopes and projections point to the failure of the western plan to destroy the Russian economy through financial sanctions.
In other words, the very source of the West’s many troubles is Russia’s ability to continue selling oil and gas around the world at a much higher price than last year. According to the data provided by Russia’s Central Bank, Russia’s surplus from January to May 2022 was just over US$110 billion. This is 3.5 per cent more than what Russia had last year. This progress – which defies the war itself – has allowed Russia to withstand western sanctions, as well as directly contributing to the inability of the West to chart a new, internally coherent response.
A report in the Wall Street Journal thus noted the West’s growing incapacity vis-à-vis Russia as well as signs of internal disunity:
“Now high inflation, slowing growth, and the specter of energy shortages in Europe this winter are damping the West’s appetite for tougher sanctions against Moscow. Divergences among the leaders of the U.S., Canada, Britain, France, Italy, Germany and Japan prevented them from agreeing on concrete new sanctions.”
Some key western leaders – especially, France’s Macron – have already developed views to settle the war through dialogue with Russia. Macron’s views, as could be expected, have not been received well by the UK’s Boris Johnson, who told Macron that settling the war now would cause “enduring instability.” But, unlike Johnson, Macron perhaps sees the limits of western options.
Macron was quick to tell Biden that even if the UAE and Saudi Arabia were to increase production, this would not help. What it means is that the global energy prices, primarily soared by western sanctions, cannot be brought down in ways the West deemed it could.
The West’s growing troubles – and indeed weakness – is also evident from the fact that the presence of non-member countries, such as India, did not add to the bloc’s efforts to cobble together a global alliance against Russia. India is an interesting example. When the Russia-Ukraine war started and India decided to buy Russian oil, the US warned New Delhi, in April, that there will be “consequences” over attempts to “circumvent” sanctions against Russia.
Now that India was invited to the summit means that the West has failed to defeat Russia on its own and that it is desperately looking to other states. But did this strategy work? The West obviously wanted to give India temporary prestige as a global power to wean it away from Russia. But it did not work. As reports indicate, India’s Modi told the German leader, Olaf Scholz, that India would not become part of any anti-Russia configuration and/or impose any sanctions to become part of the war.
The core reasons for this rejection are simple. India, as its foreign minister recently said, does not consider Europe’s/West’s problems as its own problems. To quote him, “Europe has to grow out of the mindset that Europe’s problems are the world’s problems, but the world’s problems are not Europe’s problems.” What really makes such a congruence difficult is the fact that India’s purchase of energy from Russia remains meagre compared to Europe’s. As the most recent data shows, in the first 100 days of Russia’s military operation in Ukraine, about three-quarters of Russia’s revenues from oil and gas came from Europe. Only 5 per cent came from India. How can then Europe convince nations like India to cut off Russia?
That no further sanctions have been imposed on Russia shows that the West cannot simply control the whole world and/or really ‘isolate’ Russia in any meaningful way, especially when the war has grown out of the US push to expand NATO to encircle Russia.
No wonder Biden remained reticent at the summit, even as he made a hurried departure out of the summit without making any speech. There was little for him to say in the wake of nothing concrete coming out of the summit that was thought to be the most productive one held in recent years. It comes as a grim reminder to the bloc that in a world characterized by growing multipolarity, the so-called ‘free democracies’ cannot arrogate to themselves the task of ‘guiding’ the world.
Salman Rafi Sheikh, research-analyst of International Relations and Pakistan’s foreign and domestic affairs, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.