BRICS at the crossroads The Excelsior 28 Jul 2023 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


BRICS at the crossroads The Excelsior 28 Jul 2023

          It has been officially announced that President Putin of Russia will not attend the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) leaders’ summit scheduled from 22-24 Aug in Johannesburg. He will be represented by his foreign minister Sergei Lavrov. A statement released by the spokesperson of the South African President, Cyril Ramaphosa, mentioned, ‘By mutual agreement, President Vladimir Putin of the Russian Federation will not attend the summit.’ Kremlin spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, mentioned, ‘President Putin decided to take part in the BRICS summit in a video conference format.’

          The ICC (International Criminal Court) had issued an arrest warrant for President Putin over unlawful deportation of Ukrainian children on 17th March this year. Any country which is a member of the ICC is mandated to arrest an individual against whom such a warrant has been issued. South Africa is a member, while India, which is holding the G 20 summit in Delhi in Sept, is not.

 In response to an internal court case pertaining to its obligations under the ICC mandate, the South African government stated that ‘arresting Putin would amount to declaration of war on Russia.’ South Africa had not arrested Sudanese leader Omar al-Bashir in 2015, despite an ICC warrant being issued. South Africa had even toyed with the idea of shifting the summit to China to avoid being caught in a diplomatic logjam. The crisis ended when Putin acceded to the South African President’s request to participate via video link.

          BRICS, which was formed on 16 Jun 2019 has made a mark on the global stage in a short time. All its current members are part of the G20 and combined the nations account for 42% of the global population. This year, for the first time, BRICS overtook the G7 in global GDP contribution accounting for 1/3 of global economic output, measured in terms of purchasing power parity.  

The BRICS New Development Bank (NDB), launched in 2014 with USD 50 billion in seed money is a counter to the west dominated World Bank and IMF. In 2021, Egypt, UAE, Uruguay and Bangladesh procured shares in the NDB, thereby becoming its stakeholders. The NDB is an added attraction for countries seeking to join the organization.

There are eight countries which have formally applied to join the BRICS format, while sixteen others have ‘expressed their intent,’ including Pakistan. Modalities on expansion, if any, of the BRICS will be under discussion in the summit in August. It only indicates that the organization is being seen as one which will play a major role in the future and pose a challenge to the west dominated G7.

          The emphasis in this year’s summit is likely to be trade and investment facilitation, sustainable development and global governance reform. The desire remains to shape a new global economic order challenging western dominated organizations. How will it play out remains to be seen.

BRICS also faces a growing East-West confrontation. Post the Ukraine war, sanctions on Russia and US-China economic confrontation, there was mention that BRICS is contemplating launching its own currency, akin to the Euro, backed by gold. Creating this currency was a joint suggestion by Russia and Brazil. It was clarified by host South Africa that ‘it’s not on the agenda for the current summit.’ He added, that BRICS nations will continue to ‘deepen trade and settlement in local currencies,’ bypassing the US dollar.

          India is keen to ensure that akin to the SCO (Shanghai Cooperation Organization), BRICS does not end up being dominated by China. Russia and China are already close, while South Africa is neutral. The current Brazilian President, Lula da Silva, is strengthening ties with China and Russia, nations ignored by his predecessor.

Thus, India would not be very eager to open doors for expansion, especially when it comes to nations which are beholden to China for its BRI (Belt Road Initiative). China has been pushing for the groups expansion since it proposed the ‘BRICS Plus concept’ in 2017. Post sanctions on it, Russia has begun backing the concept. India would prefer neutral countries but that appears difficult. An added problem is that nations seeking membership are also close to India diplomatically, hence denying membership would be a diplomatic disaster.

The views of the Chinese government were conveyed by its mouthpiece, The Global Times, in an editorial last week. China, as expected, blamed the US for acting as a stumbling block. The editorial stated, ‘US desires to portray China-involved international mechanisms and multilateral cooperation organizations as a geopolitical bloc, because only by doing so can the US create legitimacy for its own push for bloc confrontation.’  It listed Iran, Cuba, Indonesia, Argentina and Venezuela as countries which China favours to join, almost all tilting towards China.

As in other multilateral institutions there are disagreements within. China remains a stumbling block in the expansion of the UNSC, solely because India is a primary contender. Simultaneously, Indo-China tensions and growing Indian proximity to the US will limit Indian acceptance of Chinese backed ideas, including that of expansion of the group, as it happened in the SCO.

India, apart from Chinese domination of the organization, does not desire the creation of another anti-western block, which could enhance confrontation between institutions rather than collaboration. How long and in what manner would India be able to resist remains to be seen. It could delay expansion for a couple of years at the most.

The other aspect to note is the number of bilateral discussions which will be held during the summit. While PM Modi would interact with his counterparts as also other invitees, it remains to be seen if there would be an Xi-Modi meeting. If held, it could break the logjam on the LAC as also bring about unity in BRICS discussions. If not, then it would signal simmering tensions even during the forthcoming G20 summit being held in Delhi. For PM Modi, a bilateral without a tangible outcomes would be politically unacceptable.