Last week in Johannesburg, South Africa, the summit of BRICS leaders ended; this, in a number of different ways, marked a new stage in the development of the bloc, and in the growth of its influence throughout the world. Without going into details regarding the agreements that were reached, we will only note the fact that despite the large array of topics on all three pillars of interaction (political, economic and humanitarian) and the priorities of South Africa, most attention was focused on two key issues. First, the issue of expanding the group and the previous explosive growth of official applications for membership, and, second, working out a way for BRICS to launch its own payment instrument. Therefore, it is not surprising that the overwhelming majority of observers hardly noticed the development of many other issues on the agenda. However, today we will focus exclusively on those points that, in this author’s opinion, will have a decisive influence on the essence of Russia’s upcoming BRICS chairmanship.
Starting January 1, 2024, Russia will already be dealing with a completely different BRICS; as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said, this is already a whole football team. Incidentally, the beginning of the new BRICS this year was also very symbolic. As we remember, the first BRICS summit was held in 2009 in Yekaterinburg. However, the groundwork for the meetings of the association was laid back in 2006, both through the interaction of Russia as the chairman of the G8 with dialogue partners from among the largest developing countries, (which later got the name Heiligendamm — L’Aquila Process, or HAP), and at a separate meeting on the side-lines of the UN General Assembly of the Ministers of Brazil, Russia, India and China.
Already in 2014, starting from the second cycle of meetings, the order of the countries’ chairmanships changed and began to correspond to the letters in the acronym (initially such a change in places was due to a Russian request, because of the need to combine several international obligations and the planned chairmanship in a different structure). So, the beginning of the fourth cycle was again marked by the presidency of Russia and it, as the upcoming chairman, has a special responsibility for the new face of BRICS.
At first, there was a degree of euphoria stemming from the fact that BRICS was showing itself to be a true representative of the global majority, responding to the existing request for inclusion instead of endlessly winding up the issue through a long and dreary process of developing restrictive criteria. However, now the association will have to solve a number of tasks, at least some of which will be even more complicated. The key one is to maintain efficiency, fully involving newcomers in all already agreed-upon projects and mechanisms, and not slowing down the process of deepening interaction.
It seems that the BRICS states have absolutely no alternative but to use the remaining time of the South African presidency completing the optimisation of all existing and agreed-upon processes and agreements, which imposes an additional burden on all relevant departments and expert circles. After all, it is logical that the new member countries should get an extremely clear and precise picture of all the relationships in the association for full inclusion in all BRICS processes. Leaving such issues for the duration of the Russian presidency may complicate the process of integration of new countries.
Equally important, although seemingly more technical, is the question of the order of the presidency, which must take into account the new members. As noted above, the fourth BRICS cycle begins in 2024, and if earlier this issue was resolved quite simply, now it is necessary to develop an algorithm according to which such a sequence should be most acceptable to everyone. This is a task that falls completely within the time of the Russian presidency. Should the core of BRICS go through the fourth cycle in the same order and give newcomers the opportunity to experience all the nuances and specifics before diving into the whirlpool of events themselves? Or will a new rotation order be initiated in Kazan, taking into account regional, political and economic principles? After all, the chairmanship, despite the general continuity in the issues under consideration, also reflects the national specifics of the proposed priorities, as well as the opportunity to ensure financial and domestic political stability for organising a large number of international events. As we know, the new composition is even more diverse and varied.
It is also known that while more than twenty official applications for joining the BRICS were submitted; the ranks of the association were replenished by only 6 countries, which in turn determines the importance of developing the format and parameters of interaction with promising BRICS partner states. This is also a task for the coming year of Russia’s presidency. The challenge of maintaining the message of global majority engagement remains even after this wave of expansion.
These are just basic questions, without which it will be difficult, if not impossible, to establish normal discussions and interactions within the group. But the issue of content remains relevant. At the latest summit in Johannesburg, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the theme of the 2024 chairmanship will be “Strengthening multilateralism for equitable global development and security”, which will include both the development and continuity of the previously-discussed issues, and the directions in which Russia has significantly accumulated best practices.
Note that the issue of launching the full-fledged work of BRICS in the new composition can serve as a kind of answer to the ongoing discussions on how exactly it is necessary to reform the current system of international relations, to come to concrete consensus proposals in the follow-up to this year’s statement on the need to expand the UN Security Council by offering a greater voice to developing countries, which in turn will allow progress on other problems affecting the so-called foreign policy dossier.
It is perhaps difficult to imagine the Russian presidency without considering energy issues. The Johannesburg Declaration quite clearly postulated the right of countries to use the optimal balance of energy sources, taking into account national needs and capabilities, which allows us to hope within the forthcoming chairmanship for a full-scale conceptualisation of the principles of a fair energy transition for the countries of the world’s majority. It can also be noted that the BRICS Energy Research Platform launched at the initiative of Russia has shown its usefulness. Therefore, taking into account the accumulated experience of interaction, as well as in view of the expansion of BRICS membership, including key energy actors, it would be possible to revive the idea of establishing closer cooperation in this area and creating a BRICS Energy Agency.
As we remember, since the beginning of the meetings in the BRICS format, one of the key issues has been the reform of the global monetary and financial system, and the role of the dollar and national currencies in international exchange. In 2009, thanks to the active work of all the BRICS countries, both in the G20 and directly in the IMF, it became possible to advance the revision of quotas in favour of developing countries. It was then that the BRICS countries collectively approached the total blocking share in the Fund. But despite commitments to continue such a revision in line with new realities, the process has stalled. Presumably, another attempt to achieve a positive result will take place this autumn, but even if successful, the BRICS will still have the task of reforming the international monetary and financial system by increasing the voice of the world’s majority countries and levelling the actual veto right of one country.
A certain stress of the chairmanship may also lie in the attention that the launch of the new BRICS payment instrument has received. If ten years ago it was enough to agree on a common mechanism for the use of a pool of foreign exchange reserves and a framework agreement on the use of national currencies, today more concrete decisions are needed. Of course, we are not talking about the creation of some new BRICS currency. Nevertheless, the ever more active use of the dollar and the SWIFT system as a weapon against dissenters clearly forced not only those countries that have strained relations with the United States, but also the more loyal national leaders, to think about levelling the existing risks.
Therefore, another test for the ability to effectively respond to the environment on the part of the BRICS will be the opportunity to agree within the framework of the Russian chairmanship on the launch of an alternative payment instrument for the association. An important nuance in maintaining the stability of such an instrument may be the availability of mineral resources from the BRICS countries, especially since the new configuration includes a third of the world’s gold production, the entire range of rare earth metals, about 80% of aluminium production, almost 45% of oil reserves (4 countries are among the top ten), about half of the world production of wheat and rice. The dollar, which today de facto is such a unit of account, as we remember, has not been backed by anything since the beginning of the 1970s. Therefore, the task facing the BRICS is to ensure the stability and predictability of trade and investment both within the BRICS and externally. Despite all the complexity, it seems quite realistic and its relevance is justified not only by the current sanctions policy of the West in relation to a number of BRICS countries, but also by the objective need to ensure independent financial, trade, and economic development that is not controlled by the US authorities.
Also, despite the fact that the second BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy will be completed only in 2025, already within the framework of the Russian chairmanship, it will be necessary to begin comprehensive work on a new strategy, taking into account the capabilities and aspirations of the eleven members of the enlarged group. This will require the active inclusion of the expert track in the process of negotiations and consultations with the relevant experts of the six states. In particular, an important part of the new strategy should be a component of the BRICS transport interconnectedness and infrastructure development, including in the context of the proposal announced by President Putin to create a commission on transport issues and create new sustainable transit arteries both in Greater Eurasia and on a global scale.
And of course, bearing in mind the comprehensive nature of the association itself, humanitarian issues are no less important. I will not dwell here on all the events and topics listed at the summit, but I would like to highlight the need for progress in the field of education. So, this year, at a meeting of relevant ministers, it was still possible to agree on the need to create and launch a BRICS university ranking, which will avoid voluntarist approaches toward most of the existing international rankings, again controlled by the West. It seems that this project cannot be delayed and specific proposals should be formulated as early as next year with the help of the leading experts in the field of education from the eleven countries. In addition, taking into account the expansion that has taken place, it is important to propose not only options for expanding the BRICS Network University, but also new meanings for its work, proposals for adapting national legislation to facilitate the launch of double-degree and network programmes, as well as developing and launching a full-fledged mobility program for the students, teachers and scientists of the BRICS countries.
All of the above is only the first approach to individual topics that are on the agenda of the association. In fact, today we are witnessing a turning point. BRICS has received an impulse to make a real transition to a new, more just world order. The ability of the new BRICS to fully realize itself and fulfill the mission of the transition depends on how our descendants will remember the 21st century. The countdown has already begun, but it is 2024 that will show whether Russia, as the chairman and the entire BRICS, have coped with this non-trivial super-task.
from our partner RIAC