A South African official met an unprepared and “desperate” Victoria Nuland, begging for local help rolling back the popular coup in Niger. The recent BRICS conference might give Nuland even more to fret about, reports Anya Parampil.
When U.S. Acting Deputy Secretary of State Victoria Nuland traveled to South Africa on July 29, her reputation as a blunt instrument of Washington’s hegemonic interests preceded her.
According to a veteran South African official who attended meetings with the senior U.S. diplomat in Pretoria, however, Nuland and her team were demonstrably unprepared to grapple with recent developments on the African continent — particularly the military coup that removed Niger’s pro-Western government hours before she launched her multi-stop tour of the region.
“In over 20 years working with the Americans, I have never seen them so desperate,” the official told The Grayzone, speaking on the condition of anonymity.
Pretoria was well aware of Nuland’s hawkish reputation, but when she arrived in Pretoria, the official described her as “totally caught off guard” by winds of change engulfing the region. The July putsch that saw a popular military junta come to power in Niger followed military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso that were similarly inspired by mass anti-colonial sentiment.
Though Washington has so far refused to characterize developments in the Nigerien capital of Niamey as a coup, the South African source confirmed that Nuland sought South Africa’s assistance in responding to regional conflicts, including in Niger, where she emphasized that Washington not only held significant financial investments, but also maintained 1,000 of its own troops. For Nuland, the realization that she was negotiating from a position of weakness was likely a rude awakening.
Serving Both Parties & Advancing Empire, One Regime Change at a Time
Throughout the past decade and a half, Victoria Nuland has established herself as one of the most heavy-handed – and effective – agents of Western-directed regime change ops within the State Department. As the wife of the arch-neoconservative strategist, Robert Kagan, who advised both Republican presidential contender, Mitt Romney, and Democrat, Hillary Clinton, Nuland embodied the interventionist consensus that prevailed across both parties in the pre-Trump era. In fact, her first high-level job came under the watch of Vice President Dick Cheney, when he appointed her to serve as his deputy chief of staff.
When Nuland returned to government as a Russia specialist in President Barack Obama’s State Department, she spearheaded the covert campaign to destabilize Ukraine, driving the 2014 Maidan Coup that sparked the country’s ensuing civil conflict and, ultimately, a Western proxy war with Russia that rages to this day.
“Since Ukraine’s independence in 1991, the United States has supported Ukrainians as they build democratic skills and institutions,” Nuland, then Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs, boasted during a December 2013 talk before the U.S.-Ukraine Foundation in Kiev, flanked by a promotional panel for the Chevron corporation.
“We’ve invested over five billion dollars to assist Ukraine in these and other goals,” she continued, articulating Washington’s support for what she described as Ukraine’s “European aspirations.”
Nuland repeated the unintentionally revealing boast during a 2014 interview with CNN’s Christiane Amanpour. Days before her address, she and then-U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Geoffrey Pyatt, distributed “freedom cookies” to Ukrainians occupying Kiev’s Maidan Square in protest of President Viktor Yanukovych’s decision to, in Nuland’s words, “pause on the route to Europe.”
Roughly three months later, the prolonged campaign of riots in the Maidan successfully dislodged Yanukovych’s government, resulting in the installation of a decidedly pro-EU (and openly pro-Nazi) regime in Kiev that would promptly win the title of “most corrupt nation in Europe.” Days before Yanukovych’s ouster, leaked audio revealed that Nuland and Ambassador Pyatt were actively selecting the opposition figures that would assume power in Kiev in the event of Maidan’s success.
“Fuck the EU,” she infamously remarked during the Feb. 7, 2014 phone call, an apparent response to European leaders opposed to her government’s destabilization effort in Ukraine.
Nearly a decade since Nuland’s Kiev campaign, however, Washington’s ability to dictate the sovereign policy of foreign states is increasingly limited — particularly in South Africa and the surrounding region.
In Africa, the Sun Sets on the Unipolar World
The emergence of a new global order was on bold display when heads of state from Brazil, India, China, and South Africa convened for the 15th annual BRICS Presidential Summit in Johannesburg throughout the week of Aug. 21. While Western media highlighted Russian President Vladimir Putin’s absence from the summit as evidence of deep divides within BRICS (Foreign Minster Sergey Lavrov attended the summit in Putin’s place), the bloc ultimately issued a unanimous Aug. 24 declaration that it would extend full membership to Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates.
“BRICS is a diverse group of nations,” South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who chaired the summit, tweeted after announcing the results of BRICS’ landmark Johannesburg 2 Declaration before a room packed with international press. “It is an equal partnership of countries that have differing views but a shared vision for a better world.”
Indeed, BRICS leaders stressed the importance of the group’s function as a “consensus-based” organization built on the foundation of multilateralism and a commitment to principles enshrined in the U.N. Charter. This stands in stark contrast with alliances like the G20, which, while ostensibly committed to multilateral exchange, are viewed by Washington and its allies as a forum through which to impose their own worldview.
Western hubris was particularly palpable upon India’s assumption of the G20 presidency in 2023, when U.S. and European officials waged a futile campaign to pressure New Delhi into excluding Russia from group meetings despite Moscow’s permanent member status.
‘We Should Not go Back Go Back to a Cold War’
On the sidelines of the BRICS summit, I spoke with South Africa’s Minister for Trade, Industry, and Competition, Ebrahim Patel, about BRICS’ purpose.
“BRICS want to stand for a world in which everybody benefits, this is not about trying to get into a new Cold War,” Patel commented.
“The Cold War was not a good moment for humanity,” Patel, who chaired the BRICS Business Forum in Johannesburg, continued when asked whether the U.S. and Europe could ever accept multilateral exchange as anything other than an attack on Western hegemonic interests. “We should not go back to a Cold War with two polarizing blocs, but we do need the voices of the Global South to be out there helping to shape the architecture of governance and the way in which human beings interact.”
So is BRICS an anti-Western alliance?
“There will be many instances of misinterpretation, but we stand for a world that is united, recognizing that countries and firms will compete,” Patel explained. “That’s healthy, and underpinning that competition must be a deep collaboration and cooperation between nations.”
Asked what makes BRICS’ commitment to multilateralism different from blocs such as the G20, Patel offered a window into how BRICS truly operates.
“When the heads of state sit together, they say, ‘okay, how can we move the dial forward?’ Consensus building is a slow process. It’s an uneven process. But it does mean that the decisions that are taken have solid support.”
After two days of deliberations in Johannesburg, during which delegates considered membership applications from roughly two dozen nations, BRICS reached the consensus to admit six states that will drastically expand its share of the international economy and resource market.
Following the new members’ formal induction into the bloc next February, BRICS will include 6 of the world’s top 10 oil producers, 50 percent of the world’s natural gas reserves, and 37 percent of global GDP adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP). The G20’s share of global GDP currently sits at 30 percent. With the addition of Argentina and Saudi Arabia, BRICS will also count six permanent G20 nations among its own membership bloc.
“It is that slow, time consuming process of building consensus,” Minister Patel reflected on BRICS success. “But it’s more solid. It lasts longer.”
Thanks to BRICS, Robert Kagan’s notorious blueprint for the U.S. to serve as a “benevolent’ global hegemon may be overtaken by the developing world’s vision for a century that honors the political independence, self-determination, and territorial sovereignty of all states. Will the generation of U.S. officials that comes after Nuland accept Washington’s place in this multipolar world, or will they insist on going down fighting?
Anya Parampil is a journalist based in Washington, D.C. She has produced and reported several documentaries, including on-the-ground reports from the Korean peninsula, Palestine, Venezuela, and Honduras.