How Putin’s yoga stretched US coverage of Ufa summits

World leaders gathered in Ufa, Russia to discuss Vladimir Putin's yoga skills - at least, that's what some US publications see as important news from the summits [Xinhua]

World leaders gathered in Ufa, Russia to discuss Vladimir Putin’s yoga skills – at least, that’s what some US publications see as important news from the summits [Xinhua]

The 7th BRICS and the 15th Shanghai Cooperation Organization summits, which brought together 14 heads of state and thousands of people in delegations, concluded in the Russian Federation city of Ufa this weekend, but the events might as well have been in an alternate universe if you were reading the news in the US.

Ufa, BRICS, and the SCO garnered little or no attention in US media, and when they did, their significance was downplayed.

In fact, it wasn’t the establishment of the BRICS Bank or the billions in trade promised between the countries making up these blocs that proved newsworthy for most.

It was yoga.

Time Magazine covered the BRICS summit on July 9, albeit by publishing an article making light of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s yoga remarks, with a lede that reads as follows: “He’s mastered judo, swimming, hunting and even bare-chested horseback riding. Now for the sake of his friendship with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Russian President Vladimir Putin says he’s willing to give yoga a shot.”

But Time Magazine wasn’t the only one that found the yoga story far more interesting than the spirit of multilateral cooperation materializing at this year’s summit.

The New York Times published an article on July 8 headlined “It’s a Stretch, but Putin Will Add Yoga to His Repertoire,” with only a passing reference to the BRICS event as part of a “two summit meetings Russia is hosting simultaneously in Ufa that are meant to show, among other things, that Russia has friends.

In the US discourse, Russia’s actions are portrayed as a bid for cementing relations with non-Western countries following its “alienation” by the West over the Ukrainian crisis.

The New York Times also published an article on July 8 from the Reuters news wire, titled “Russia Woos China Before BRICS Summit,” which paints a picture in which Moscow is trying to attract investments from Beijing, which recently experienced a stock market dip.

According to the daily, these efforts were part of an attempt to counterbalance the effects of Western economic sanctions on the Russian economy and the over-all fall in oil prices. Again the summit is touted as an opportunity for Russia “to show it is not isolated globally”.

Again in its Wednesday briefing, The New York Times framed the BRICS summit in the context of Russia’s supposed desperation at debilitating sanctions and “amid increasing isolation from the West, hoping to strengthen relations with allies from the four emerging nations”.

But the news blurb fails to mention that this is the 7th BRICS summit, with previous venues for the annual meet held in cities such as Durban, Fortaleza and New Dehli.

Both The New York Times and the Washington Post on July 9 published an Associated Press article highlighting a meeting between Pakistani and Indian prime ministers slated to take place on the sidelines of the BRICS and the SCO summits, but did not elucidate the importance of this event for South-South multilateral and bilateral relations.

When there was an attempt at serious reporting about the Ufa BRICS Summit, it usually came disguised as scathing review.

A July 7 Brookings Institution article – “BRICS Summit: the shadow of the former self it never was” – highlighted the slowing pace of the BRICS “supposed growth engines,” citing Russia’s contracting economy (again “because of sanctions, but mostly because of the collapse of the global oil price”), Brazil’s negative growth this year, India’s need for “serious economic reforms”, China’s slower rate of growth, and South Africa’s negligible economy.

$17 trillion what?

A July 6 Bloomberg article provided a much more balanced narrative ahead of the BRICS Summit.

In “Here’s the $17 Trillion Reason Why the BRICS Summit This Week Is a Big Deal” Bloomberg pulled off a neat trick by interviewing Jim O’Neill, the economist who first coined the term BRIC in 2007.

“Despite some disappointments in some of the BRIC economies, led by China and India, their collective weight in global GDP continues to rise and therefore also does their importance,” O’Neill tells Bloomberg.

The article, while not scathing, is critical and points out the challenges that the grouping currently faces.

It concludes that despite Indian growth pushing past Russia and the Chinese overall clout, this will not translate into reducing the “voice of the other three members in the group,” since after all, the “birthmark of the BRICS is equality among members.”

The Wall Street Journal provided more in-depth reporting, covering the launch of the long-awaited BRICS New Development Bank (NBD) planned ahead of the summit in Ufa, which again was taken as a sign of Russia’s eagerness to “demonstrate it hasn’t been isolated by Western sanctions.”

The article – “Brics Launches Development Bank Ahead of Russian Summit”- goes on to discuss the function of the bank in “financing projects mainly in member countries,” and a deal between the countries’ national banks to create a “$100 billion [currency] reserve fund by the end of July that can be tapped in financial emergencies”. It says the NBD is an alternative to the International Monetary Fund (IMF).

On July 10, The New York Times published an article titled “Pakistan, India Agree to Cooperate on Eliminating Terrorism” which recognized the enormity of India and Pakistan easing relations at the BRICS and SCO summits.

It highlighted how the prime ministers of both countries – now full SCO members – condemned terrorism and agreed “to cooperate with each other to eliminate the menace of terrorism from South Asia”.

By Sulafah Al Shami for The BRICS Post in New York City

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