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Neo-religionism of the post ideological Russia

Anis H. Bajrektarevic

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[yt_dropcap type=”square” font=”” size=”14″ color=”#000″ background=”#fff” ] T [/yt_dropcap]he lonely superpower (US) vs. the bear of the permafrost (Russia), with the world’s last cosmopolite (EU) in between. Is the ongoing calamity at the eastern flank of the EU a conflict, recalibration, imperialism in hurry, exaggerated anti-Russian xenophobia or last gasp of confrontational nostalgia?

Just 20 years ago, the distance between Moscow and NATO troops stationed in Central Europe (e.g., Berlin) was more than 1.600 km. Today, it is only 120 km from St. Petersburg. Is this a time to sleep or to worry? ‘Russia no longer represents anything that appeals to anyone other than ethnic Russians, and as a result, the geopolitical troubles it can cause will remain on Europe’s periphery, without touching the continent’s core’ – was the line of argumentation recently used by Richard N. Haass, President of the US Council of Foreign Relations. Is it really so?

Is there any intellectually appealing call originating from Russia? Russia is a legal, not an ideological, successor of the late Soviet Union. Many in Greece, Latin America and elsewhere in the world mingled the two. Does it still today represent a lonely champion of antifascism and (pan-)Slavism?

Is the Slavism, identity, secularism and antifascism, while abandoned in Eastern Europe, confused perhaps by the mixed signals from the austerity-tired Atlantic Europe and über-performing Central Europe?

For the EU, Ukraine is (though important) an item of the Neighborhood Policy and for the US it is a geopolitical pivot. However, for Russia, it is all this plus emotional attachment. Without Ukraine, to what extent is Russia Christian and European?

Is the EU a subject or a hostage (like Ukraine) of the mega-geopolitical drama whose main and final stage is in the Asia-Pacific theater? What is the objective here – the ultimate score (territorial gain) or an altered style of the game (new emotional charge of confrontation added to the international relations)? What is a road map, an exit, a future perspective – relaxation or escalation? Hegemony, hegemoney, or a global (post-dollar) honeymoon?

New religionism: Powerful self-imposed deterrent

Without a socio-political cohesion via integralism, it is rather impossible to reverse the socio-economic decomposition of Russophone and Eastern Europe. Unity for cohesion does not mean a (rigid communist) unanimity. But, Europe’s East is still mixing the two. Consequently, all three cohesive forces of Eastern Europe have disappeared: (i) atheistic elites (irrespectively from their ethnic, religious, social and linguistic background); (ii) antifascism; and (iii) Slavism. How to reinvigorate overall societal passions and drives for the enhancement of nation without unifying ideological narrative?

While the secularism of Atlantists increases the intellectual appeal of their indigenous ideology – that of neoliberalism, transcontinentally; the newly discovered neo-clericalism of Eastern and Russophone Europe plays, not an emancipating, but a powerful self-restraining role. At home, it only polarizes, fragments and undermines vital social consensus, and for abroad it serves as a powerful self-deterrent.

Simply, beyond its narrow ethnic frames or national borders such neo-religionism motivates none to nothing. In the 21st century, dominated by the socially mobilized, secularized and knowledge-based nations across the world, religionism of East (static and rigid like its retrograde MENA sibling) only further alienates, isolates and marginalizes that region. It easily ends up in ethno-chauvinistic overtones that are not only isolating its proprietor, but also antagonizing or radically mobilizing its neighbors.

Globally, it means that while East remains entrenched in its ‘newly discovered’ religionism, only one ideology remains unchallenged and uncontested – that of Atlantist neoliberalism.    

Logically, East neither controls its own narrative nor (interpretation of) history: Due to a massive penetration of Central Europe, East grossly relativized, trivialized and silenced its own past and present anti-fascism. Additionally, this region does not effectively control its media space. Media there (of too-often dubious orientation and unspecified ownership) is distracting vital public debates: discouraging, disorienting and silencing any sense of national pride, influence over destiny direction and to it related calls for self-(re) assessment.

Today, Eastern Europe is not even sure, if its anti-fascism should be a question of choice or a matter of pure survival. Its mental de-territorialisation is corrosive and deep.

Pauperised masses – empowered lumpen proletariat

In a combination with above, the speed and dimensions of criminal redistribution of national wealth and cruel pauperisation of masses (euphemistically called ‘western style privatisation’ of 1990s) deeply transformed the East, turning many into a re-feudalized society. By the end of Yeltsin dizzy rule, even the biggest critics of the Soviet era were horrified by the post-Soviet destruction of Eastern Europe.

In 2000, much quoted Alexander Solzhenitsyn screamed out loudly: “Will we continue looting and destroying Russia until nothing is left? … God forbid these ‘reforms’ should continue.” For that, he was of course, silenced and marginalized, and never quoted.

Indeed, as elsewhere in Eastern Europe, the severity, frequency and tempo of that social re-engineering via criminal redistribution of national wealth had no parallel historic example. Seems as if the region was left to choose between genocide (ex-YU) and its evil twin – social apartheid (elsewhere in the East)? Where were the famous dissidents from East? Why didn’t the academia of Eastern Europe debate about it?

While famous East intelligentsia remains mute, answers are streaming from the dominant narrative, that of West. Moreover, describing who these new elites of the East are, western authors are breaking another Eastern taboo – quoting Karl Marx.

Number of quotation of Karl Marx in e.g. the New York Times, FAM, Economist, Wall Street Journal or other western neoliberal opinion-makers per annum is higher than all cumulative quotations of Karl Marx in Eastern Europe for the past two decades.

Thinkers of the East expulsed Marx and Engels to (intellectual) Gulag indefinitely.

Hence, discussing the new emerging class on both sides of Atlantic, Daniel Henninger does not hesitate to consider them a retrograde force of ‘lumpen proletariat’, outcasts turned professional dissidents, a fake class of ‘social scam’.

Writing in the WSJ (Trumpen Proletariat, July 06 2016), to support his argument, he states: “Karl Marx, in a particularly dyspeptic moment, offered this description of what he dismissed as the lumpen proletariat: ‘Alongside decayed roués with dubious means of subsistence and of dubious origin, alongside ruined and adventurous offshoots of the bourgeoisie, were vagabonds, discharged soldiers, discharged jailbirds, escaped galley slaves, swindlers, mountebanks, lazzaroni, pickpockets, tricksters, gamblers, pimps, brothel keepers, porters, literati, organ grinders, ragpickers, knife grinders, tinkers, beggars—in short, the whole indefinite, disintegrated mass, thrown hither and thither, which the French call la bohème.’”

New elites of neo-feudalism?! European dream refeudalised …

Modern Diplomacy Advisory Board, Chairman Geopolitics of Energy Editorial Member Professor and Chairperson for Intl. Law & Global Pol. Studies contact: anis@bajrektarevic.eu

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G20 Summit: Looking for Compromise

Natalia Eremina

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The G20 is an important international forum, a meeting place for representatives of the world’s largest economies. Now, we can say that the division into the so-called “developed” and “developing” economies is irrelevant within this forum. Additionally, the G20 generally does, indeed, represent the interests of the global population, since its countries account for over 80 percent of the gross world product and two thirds of the entire population of the planet. It is also important to remember that such venues are very convenient for privately owned businesses, which, through the support of governmental agencies, can get favourable opportunities to hold talks with their foreign partners. Additionally, a rather large number of meetings and talks at G20 summits remains outside the spotlight, but their results confirm the significance of the many unofficial meetings, informal negotiations and talks on the side-lines of the summits. These meetings, which take place in a variety of formats, are vital for understanding the issues that are most important for leading international participants and whether there is consensus among them on the approaches required to resolve these issues. Moreover, as we consider meetings and agreements concluded on the side-lines of G20 summits, we can, to a degree, draw conclusions on the current configuration or re-configuration of international relations.

From the outset, we will note that the importance of G20 summits is gradually growing, even though they started out as meetings of ministers of finance and their initial goal was to formulate a joint response to global financial issues. Today, the summit has transformed into an international venue for discussing issues of global financial and economic policies and other pressing matters of the day. However, economic and financial issues remain significant for G20 discussions.

The summit is also important for the expert and political communities of various countries that assess the prospects of inter-country interactions. Apparently, at the Argentina summit, the meeting between Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin attracted the greatest interest, but it never happened, since the U.S. President cancelled it at the eleventh hour, which certainly demonstrates the growing tensions in U.S.–Russia relations.

At the same time, the summit is useful, since its function is not to settle bilateral relations, but to develop common approaches that satisfy different states with different economic indicators and representing different political regimes.

G20 summits are convened to discuss several pressing issues proposed by the presiding state.

The summit held in Argentina was devoted to building a consensus for fair and stable development. Face-to-face meetings between heads of state are particularly important for handling the task. The goal of the summit indicates that the global community is aware of the current tectonic shifts in the global economy and in world politics. For a full-scale scale discussion of the problem, four issues were put on the agenda: the future of work and new professions, infrastructure for development, sustainable food future and gender mainstreaming.

Clearly, the G20 is not just a venue for discussing issues that have been defined as key; it is also an opportunity to “compare notes” via different formats “inside” the summit. For instance, we can say that France, Germany, Austria and Italy did not represent themselves or their interests alone, but were also united by their common tasks as EU countries. In addition, as one of the world’s largest economies, the European Union is a member of G20 as a single body. At the present summit, the European Union was represented by the heads of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker. Similarly, BRICS countries use G20 to discuss issues of their own.

G20 in Implementing Russia’s Strategic Tasks

Russia’s current strategic priority is to take part in the establishment of the concept of a multipolar world and in elaborating new principles of interaction within integration processes in Eurasia. Therefore, special emphasis will invariably be placed on the possibilities for implementing the idea of “integrating integrations” at G20 summits, and this summit was no exception. In particular, special attention was paid to mechanisms for connecting the development of the EAEU with the “One Road – One Belt” strategy. In addition, issues of stepping up cooperation within BRICS are also addressed, and there is an ongoing search for parties interested in bolstering global political and economic stability through the instruments of “integrating integrations,” which entails Russia paying attention to China, India and other Asian partners, as well as the gradual stable growth of Russia’s interests in Latin America.

As for meetings that have the greatest significance for Russia, the key talks for understanding the development of Russia’s foreign policy are the now traditional sessions held with BRICS countries. In addition, a meeting was also held between the heads of state of Russia, India and China (in the RIC format). Objectively, this format could be the most efficient, since interaction between Eurasia’s three largest states is of principal significance for both regional and global security. The dialogue on security issues and collaboration in all areas will be continued at the second Belt and Road Summit in April 2019 that Xi Jinping invited Vladimir Putin to attend.

The President of the Russian Federation was probably one of the most active figures at the present summit. Naturally, he had a meeting with representatives of Argentina. It is all the more important today since the EAEU and MERCOSUR are building up their cooperation potential, and a Memorandum on Cooperation is being prepared. What is more, Russia and Argentina concluded an agreement on nuclear power generation that will allow Russia to start construction of Russian-designed nuclear power plants in Argentina.

The main topic of discussion at the meeting between Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was the Syrian agenda. Indeed, an exchange of opinions on this question now, when various formats of building up the peace process are being discussed, is of particular importance. In addition, the President of the Russian Federation discussed the current situation in Syria with his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who also confirmed the significance of the Turkish Stream for the stable and secure development of the economy of Turkey and other states.

The meeting between the President of the Russian Federation and Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman focused on energy issues, with the two parties agreeing to extend the agreement on cutting oil production.

Vladimir Putin also met with Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe, with the Japanese side raising the issue of concluding a peace agreement. For Russia, the issue is not particularly relevant anymore, and at the meeting, the two heads of state agreed to continue active cooperation to increase the level of mutual trust between the two sides.

Of course, a great number of people were interested in the informal conversation between Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump, who only had time to exchange opinions on the “Kerch Strait incident.” Trump’s refusal to meet with the President of the Russian Federation means a further loss of confidence between the two countries.

On the whole, meetings between heads of state were of particular importance at the summit, since, for instance, the meeting at the level of ministers of foreign affairs was downsized due to the absence of Russian and French ministers of foreign affairs, the U.S. Secretary of State and the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy.

G20: The International Agenda

The so-called Iran nuclear deal has become one of the most crucial problems in international relations. Russia and the European Union have adopted the same stance on this issue.

In addition to economic matters, G20 also tackled the climate change problem and proposed complete and utter compliance with the decisions of the Paris Agreement on climate change. However, significant progress is unlikely after the withdrawal of the United States from the accord.

No less important were the discussions on the problem of terrorism. The G20 countries agreed that their Leaders’ Hamburg Statement on Countering Terrorism needed to be implemented. Incidentally, that statement declared the need to fight terrorism internationally in all its forms and manifestations. However, the current situation is extremely complicated, and discussions concerning Syria confirm this fact.

The influence of the European Union and the United Kingdom on the international security agenda and their claim that Russia is the main disrupting force are just as worrying. The European Union, in the person of Donald Tusk, sought to expand the summit’s agenda with a discussion of Russia’s so-called aggression against Ukraine, which he likened to the problem of trade wars. However, despite the suggestion put forward by both Tusk and the United Kingdom that the G20 discuss Russia’s allegedly impermissible conduct and use some instruments against it, the proposal failed to gain traction. It say a lot that the “Kerch Strait incident” did not overshadow any of the meetings held by the President of the Russian Federation at the G20 Summit.

The attention of international actors was also focused on the meeting between Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, who failed to achieve a consensus on economic interaction, but agreed to a 90-day moratorium on introducing increased tariffs. Accordingly, special hopes are pinned on this interim measure. Clearly, China will not make the unilateral concessions that the United States is calling upon it to do, appealing instead to the idea of a compromise.

Results of the G20 Summit

While the summit’s final declaration does not contain specific figures and objectives for the most sensitive issues on the agenda, it does offer mechanisms for their resolution. In this respect, the summit did not turn out to be a breakthrough in resolving pressing issues. However, it demonstrated that no issue will ever be resolved if the parties abandon dialogue and compromise.

The results of Russia’s efforts at the summit include the signing of a large set of bilateral agreements between public and private bodies. The summit also demonstrated that Russia is actively and successfully stepping up cooperation with Latin American countries and enhancing its multi-format collaboration with the BRICS nations, particularly with China and India.

It is both curious and telling that the media was most interested in the meetings held by Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, and Donald Trump. However, we should mention the different approaches of these heads of state. For example, the President of the United States demonstrated that his country was not especially interested in following the established rules and was far more concerned about retaining the right to develop new rules of the game independently of other participants in international relations. Meanwhile, China’s and Russia’s leaders spoke about cooperation and compromise both in their joint meetings held in various formats and in their conversations with other heads of state. Additionally, the fact that the world is changing rapidly was recognized at the summit, meaning that the rules of the game can and should be changed and that new rules need to be formulated, but only through collaboration and compromise.

The heads of state also appealed to the IMF and the World Bank to work towards improving the economic situation in various countries and increasing the transparency of their work in interacting with states. This should help reduce sovereign debt and ensure that the recommendations offered by international financial institutions in individual states are implemented more effectively.

In addition, the leaders of the G20 countries concluded that responses need to be developed to current and future challenges in the development of the WTO and attempts should be made to avoid excessive contradictions, sanctions and tariff restrictions. The parties also agreed that the WTO needs to be reformed for it to work more efficiently. This aspect will be considered at the next summit in Japan.

Interestingly, virtually all countries supported multi-laterality, confirmed their commitment to the rules of international trade and agreed that efforts to overcome crisis trends in the global economy should be stepped up in order to avoid a repetition of the 2008 global crisis. The final declaration states that the global economic growth is increasingly less synchronized between countries, which entails risks to economic security, particularly given geopolitical tensions and financial unpredictability. To overcome this problem, it is important to step up interaction and increase trust among all parties in international relations.

The G20 states also announced that it was necessary to continue joint work on studying the impact that the digitalization of economy has on the global tax system, which needs to be adapted to current conditions by 2019 (final decisions on the matter will be elaborated and published in 2020).

Thus, the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires once again demonstrated the significance of the mechanisms of dialogue and achieving compromise based on constant information exchange between countries. The compromise-based approach was officially adopted as the foundation of all agreements, and was the leitmotif of the event. Given the circumstances, an increasing number of states recognize their significance as participants in international relations and, with each passing year, they strive to more forcefully state their stance on the most sensitive issues. Clearly, the Russian Federation wholeheartedly welcomes this trend.

Therefore, it should be noted that the recent summit in Argentina demonstrated that the G20 is just that – a group of countries – and not a political club. This fact increases its significance as an organization exhibiting a multilateral, multi-format and pluralistic nature of today’s international relations. Active discussions in such a format confirm the relevancy of multipolarity and the current processes of reconfiguring the world. In such circumstances, Russia can most fully implement its interests and convey its vision of international matters. An analysis of the volume of news reports in the European media is quite telling in that it proves that EU journalists were primarily interested not so much in meetings of heads of EU states, but in meetings with the participation of the leaders of Russia, China and the United States, meaning that EU representatives were running second in the newsfeeds of many news agencies. Thus, the results of the summit allow us to state that there has been a significant increase in the international community’s attention on Russia.

First published in our partner RIAC

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Russia Calling the Shots: Extrapolating from the Kerch Strait

Dr. Matthew Crosston

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The quasi-standoff this past week between Russia and Ukraine over the Kerch Strait has been painted in the West with a decidedly anti-Russian brush. After Russia fired near three Ukrainian naval ships attempting to enter the strait (which sits as a small maritime passageway between the eastern edge of Crimea and the western tip of the Krasnodar region of the Russian Federation, allowing ships to move between the Black and Azov Seas) and ultimately resulted in their seizure by Russian border guards, political actors all across the West have been quick to snap judgment against ‘Russian aggression:’ the EU has debated whether it needs to enact new sanctions against Moscow; Ukraine invited NATO to send a heavier naval presence into the Black Sea; even the Trump administration has at least temporarily canceled a future visit that was scheduled between the American president and Vladimir Putin, although it is not entirely certain that this is perfectly aligned with the Kerch Strait incident.

As has been the standard media and political play when it comes to Russian-American relations over the past several years, no one seems to be attempting to analyze what the Russian position is, other than derisively dismissing the Russian accusation of the entire incident being a Ukrainian ‘provocation.’ Regardless of the strong desire to put the black cowboy hat on to Putin (and to be fair, Putin sometimes seems to actually enjoy donning it, if at least to thumb his nose at the West), the Russian position, if taken more seriously, does give Western leaders important information about how Russia views not just its immediate region but also its political mentality on the global stage. America would do well to pay attention to this at least for the insights it can give into the Russian mindset.

First, Russia clearly still harbors irritation and resentment over what it considers to be continued interference from the West in Ukraine, ostensibly giving Ukraine a false sense of being able to ignore Russia as the true regional power and harbor false dreams of closer military ties to the European Union and NATO. This gives Russia the marked perception that the West is thereby purposely fomenting dissension between Russia and Ukraine. Second, Poroshenko, the President of Ukraine, has a unique talent for enflaming this Russian perception to near hysterical heights, what with his penchant for making nearly continuous claims about Russia intending to ‘steal his entire country’ and installing ‘partial martial law’ over part of his own country when it comes to access to Crimea. Third, the consequences of the first two problems create Russian exasperation with what the Kremlin considers a ‘foreign policy double standard’ that favors the United States, causes its neighbors to act ‘irrationally’ (at least irrational according to Russian national security interests) and which will simply never be accepted by Russia.

The Crimean referendum, which led to Russia accepting Crimea back into the regional fold of the Russian Federation formally, was the first obvious (to Russia) example that false promises were being made to Ukraine. After all, it was the Russian military that came into Crimea after the referendum and literally dared NATO or the EU to come forward and try to expel it from the peninsula. It was calling out the NATO promise – made to the leaders of the Maidan revolution in Kiev – that it would not allow Russia to make ‘any incursions’ into Ukraine, and proving it to be nothing but a bluff. Russia marched. Kiev called. NATO didn’t pick up. Even now, Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the former Prime Minister of Ukraine, recently expressed disappointment with NATO over the Kerch Strait incident, declaring how the ‘good relations’ between Ukraine and the Western defense organization have not materialized into ‘stronger military communication.’

This has been the foundation of Russia’s tough love approach to Ukraine and its misplaced Slavic shuffle: stop thinking you have a bigger or more powerful ally than the one that has always been on your Eastern border and has deep historical, religious, and cultural ties to you. The EU and NATO will never stand up to Russia in favor of Ukraine when the issue is relatively small on the global conflict scale. And despite what current Russophobes may think, Crimea and the Kerch Strait, since they have not escalated into something bigger or more violent, apparently do not pass the Western intervention sniff test. Thus, with the Kerch Strait today (which not coincidentally is the maritime pass over which Russia built a massive superhighway, literally connecting the Russian mainland directly to Crimea and which, understandably, the Kremlin is a bit sensitive about when it comes to any appearance of military maneuvers near it by another nation), Russia is challenging what seems to be a second NATO bluff. Instead of hoping for NATO to draw a red line, Ukraine might be better off paying attention to the Russian red line.

In the end, this is not Russia trying to escalate violence or war with Ukraine. It is not Russia attempting to bring Western powers deeper into what it considers its own sphere of neighborhood influence (based on very simple, classical realist power considerations). Rather, it is Russia attempting to ‘educate’ Ukraine about who its real allies should be and who its false friends are. Perhaps more than anything, it is Russia somewhat condescendingly telling the West that no matter how much nonsense it fills in the heads controlling Kiev (consider Putin just announcing that Kiev would get away with ‘eating babies’ as long as it would make things more difficult for Russia, all major decisions in this region of the globe are going to remain firmly in Russian hands. The West may not like it, but so far in the game of Ukrainian Bluff, it is Russia 2, the West 0.

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BRICS leaders’ meeting in Buenos Aires

Kester Kenn Klomegah

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Due to efficient cooperation between the BRICS members and coordination within international organisations and forums, the strategic partnership has grown stronger and continues to actively develop in the most diverse areas, Russian leader Vladimir Putin said at a meeting with his colleagues at the G20 summit held in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Putin supported much of what his colleagues have said about the difficult situation in global politics, economy, trade and finance, and noted that such risk factors as an increase in global debt, volatility of stock markets and escalating trade disputes.

“In general, we cannot help noticing that unfair competition often takes the place of fair and equitable intergovernmental dialogue. The nefarious practice of imposing unilateral sanctions and protectionist measures without regard to the UN Charter, WTO rules and other generally accepted legal norms is spreading,” he stressed.

All of these seriously undermines the atmosphere of cooperation on the global stage and leads to declining business ties and loss of trust between participants of economic relations, distorting the very fabric of the global economy, Putin explained further.

The BRICS countries plan to continue working together to create a fair and equitable system of international relations. For this, collective action based on mutual respect and consideration of interests is needed in order to overcome the critical challenges facing the international community.

He noted that the danger posed by international terrorism is not subsiding and enlist the support of BRICS members in counteracting this global problem.

He suggested BRICS play a more significant role in the global financial system, push for the continuation of the IMF reform and for greater influence in the IMF.

The BRIS members pledged to get committed to sustainable development of agriculture. Russia is a large producer and exporter of agricultural produce, contributing significantly to food security. Over the last 10 years, we supplied over 650,000 tonnes of food and humanitarian aid to more than 110 countries.

It is expected that the bond and national currencies fund of the BRICS countries to become available in 2019, which would allow strengthening financial and investment stability and expanding the interaction of national payment systems.

They pledged to pay special attention to coordinating the BRICS countries’ positions on issues related to energy and climate change. Russia, as a reliable exporter of energy to many countries and regions in the world, intends to continue to actively participate in harmonising global energy markets jointly with other suppliers and consumers of fuel and to provide global energy security.

A significant contribution to financial stability has been made by the new development bank, which is now supporting 26 projects in BRICS countries with US$6.5 billion in financing.

President Vladimir Putin arrived in Buenos Aires to attend the Group of Twenty summit. Before that, he held an informal meeting with his BRICS counterparts where he congratulated President of South Africa, Cyril Ramaphosa, for organising everything during his chairmanship in July 2018 and further promised similar support for President of Brazil, the new chair, for the next summit in 2019.

The leaders of the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) nations have agreed to hold their next summit in Brazil in 2019, according to the statement passed after their informal meeting on the sidelines of the Group of Twenty summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.

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