A few days ago, on June 21, Emmanuel Macron hinted that he would welcome an invitation to the BRICS summit, to be held this year in South Africa. What does that have to do with the chaos in Russia on June 24? The whole episode, and Russia’s response to Macron, may shed some light on the situation.
BRICS is an acronym for Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa, and represents an organization like the G7–except in this case they are described as “emerging markets.” The acronym (originally BRIC; South Africa was added in 2010) came from economist Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs, in 2001, who wanted to draw investor attention to several fast-growing economies. The first four took an investment portfolio idea and turned it into an actual union; Russia organized the first meeting, in 2010. They are founders of the New Development Bank, modeled on the World Bank, which lends money for infrastructure projects and for short-term economic difficulties. They have also discussed the issuing of a BRICS currency.
China and India are rivals, and suspicious of each other, notably in regard to China’s Belt and Road initiative. The fact that Russia of BRICS has thrown itself into a brutal and unsuccessful war has only enhanced the role of China’s leadership in the group, which further increases tension with India. Trade may win out: in April, 2023, Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva (Lula) visited China. China is Brazil’s most important commercial partner in agricultural exports, far ahead, as a market, of the United States. Lula announced publicly before the trip that he wanted China to take the lead in bringing about a diplomatic solution to the war in Ukraine. Lula had already informed President Biden, President Macron of France, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, that he would refuse to send arms to Ukraine “in the name of peace”; he sees an end to the war as one that would have Russia leave Ukraine (and keep Crimea? What about Donbass and Luhansk? It’s mostly left vague.) And perhaps the most important symbolic link between them is China’s support for Dilma Rousseff (president of Brazil from 2011-2016), an economist, an important figure in the creation of the New Development Bank, as the NDB’s president. President Xi of China had also received a visit, earlier in April, from Macron and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, who informed him, according to Le Monde, that the war in Ukraine was “an existential subject for Europe.”.
That’s why the possibility that Macron would like to attend the September summit has caused such an awkward situation. The request for an invitation came from Macron’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Catherine Colonna, who approached Naledie Pandor, Foreign Minister of South Africa. Immediately Colonna brought up a complication. The invitation, she said, should be made “in full respect of international law,” in reference to Putin’s attendance. The International Criminal Court has issued an arrest warrant against Putin for kidnapping Ukrainian children. South Africa is a signatory to the court, and would be obliged to arrest him if he came.
Russia responded badly to Macron’s initiative, as one might expect, stating that France would be an “inappropriate guest.” Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov was precise: “Clearly, leaders of states that pursue such a hostile and unacceptable policy towards us, discussing with such emphasis and conviction that Russia should be isolated on the international stage, and share the common NATO line on inflicting a so-called strategic defeat on us–such a leader is an inappropriate BRICS guest.” RT (Russia Today), the government-funded news organization, added that the group was about to discuss “the criteria for future members”; 20 nations had applied, though not France, and Ryabkov said, in effect, that France should not be involved in internal matters.
The comments section of the RT media site resembles Elon Musk’s twitter, but their general disgust and mockery for Macron’s desire to attend was echoed in France itself, which generally regarded it as another example of Macron’s rudeness and cluelessness.
But was it? And why did Macron make this suggestion? On June 17, 2023, a delegation of African leaders had traveled to both Ukraine and Moscow; many African countries depend on grain and fertilizer from both Ukraine and Russia, and fear another year, at least, of hardship. A key member of the delegation was President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, the host of the upcoming BRICS forum. Sergey Lavrov stated that “the main conclusion” from the conversation, which had no concrete results, was that “our partners from the African Union have shown an understanding of the true causes of the crisis that was created by the West [ie, the expansion of NATO and the EU].”  Nevertheless, the talks did not go all that well, the problem of supplies was not solved, and there was a clear rift between Ramaphosa and Putin, and thus within BRICS. Was Macron attempting to position France between G7 and BRICS? Was he attempting to drive a deeper wedge within BRICS? Was Macron just being Macron?
And note the dates for all of this: five days before the Prigozhin uprising on June 24, 2023. And the Russian government, at least in their utterances and preoccupations, seemed unaware that anything was brewing.
 Tom Hancock, “How BRICS became a Real Club and Why Others Want In,” The Washington Post, May 28, 2023. https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/energy/2023/05/28/how-brics-became-a-real-club-and-why-others-want-in/5caecc7e-fdb7-11ed-9eb0-6c94dcb16fcf_story.html. For the New Development Bank: https://www.ndb.int/
 Frédéric Lemaitre, “En visite en Chine, Lula veut rapprocher Pékin de Brasilia,” Le Monde, April 12 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/international/article/2023/04/12/en-visite-en-chine-lula-veut-rapprocher-pekin-de-brasilia_6169200_3210.html
 “La France propose une participation d’Emmanuel Macron au sommet des Brics en Afrique du Sud,” Le Monde, June 21, 2023. https://www.lemonde.fr/afrique/article/2023/06/21/la-france-propose-une-participation-d-emmanuel-macron-au-sommet-des-brics-en-afrique-du-sud_6178547_3212.html
 “Macron would be inappropriate guest at BRICS summit, says Russia,” Reuters, June 22, 2023. https://www.reuters.com/world/europe/macron-would-be-inappropriate-guest-brics-summit-says-russia-2023-06-22/ “Macron is ‘inappropriate’ for BRICS–Moscow,” RT, June 22, 2023. https://www.rt.com/russia/578438-macron-brics-leaders-summit/
 Jamey Keaten, “Putin meets with African leaders in Russia to discuss Ukraine peace plan, but no visible progress,” AP, June 17, 2023. https://apnews.com/article/russia-ukraine-war-peace-plan-africa-1eb9512e45979563c8392fd855f7f4ce;
AP, “Ukraine war is hurting Africa, South African President Ramaphosa tells Putin,” June 18, 2023. NPR.org, June 18, 2023. https://www.npr.org/2023/06/18/1182985096/ukraine-war-is-hurting-africa-south-african-president-ramaphosa-tells-putin