During the time of increasing influence, the group of five major developing countries known as BRICS will host its annual summit from August 22nd to 24th in Johannesburg, South Africa. Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa collectively contribute over 25% to global economic production and represent more than 40% of the world’s population. However, due to differing national interests and broader geopolitical factors, working as a united entity becomes challenging for this bloc.
The role of geopolitics in complicating matters came to light when an international arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin was issued by the International Criminal Court, threatening to cancel this week’s summit. This put South Africa in an awkward position, as participating could lead to their apprehension, should they attend. Ultimately, South Africa and Russia came to an agreement that they will indeed participate.
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Will the Ukraine conflict and the arrest warrant for Putin have any lasting impact?
It’s likely that Russia won’t be able to push its agenda as strongly. While South Africa was capable of orchestrating a hybrid format—participating alongside Russian President Sergey Lavrov on a personal level—Russia will claim its global relations are robust and its attempts at Western isolation are failing. However, the West will cite this format as evidence of Russia’s exclusion from international structures. Pretoria emerged as the primary victor; the summit will take place in South Africa, and the government successfully dealt with the contentious issues surrounding Russia’s presence, while tensions with the United States and other Western partners regarding the Russia-Ukraine conflict were also eased.
What’s the main agenda in BRICS?
The potential expansion of BRICS will be the most crucial issue. Although nearly 40 countries have formally applied for membership or expressed interest, some media reports suggest that existing BRICS members are not in agreement on how to proceed further—a crucial decision for any ultimate outcome. China is the most vocal proponent of expansion, viewing BRICS as another major organization where it can increase its influence, support the development of parallel international institutions, and counter the United States. Russia also supports expansion, as it wants to bolster alternative Western options.
Both Brazil and South Africa are concerned about diminishing their influence within the organization, while India’s primary concern is China’s growing clout. The current indication suggests that discussions at the summit will focus on establishing membership criteria, enabling gradual expansion without seeing new BRICS members as hurdles, and slowing down the expansion process to prevent challenges for existing member nations. Other agenda items include current geo-political issues, development of fundamental structures in emerging markets, the establishment of the new development bank for BRICS, and efforts to enhance the portfolio.
Will the discussion on the Russia-Ukraine war have any impact?
Undoubtedly, the controversy over the arrest warrant by the International Criminal Court for Putin has already had an impact. However, it is unlikely that war negotiations will be a major topic of discussion at the BRICS summit, given that Russia is a member of BRICS and none of the other four members have approved it. Since Putin will only take part in the actual fighting, Moscow will not be in a good position to propose a unified BRICS statement on the war; neither
Putin nor Lavrov will take the risk of presenting a statement that can be criticized.
At the beginning of this month, China’s participation in peace talks in Saudi Arabia has given rise to some speculations that it may be tired of rejecting negotiations with Russia, especially when Russia was not invited to join. While Beijing seeks to play a creative diplomatic role, there is very little evidence that there is any intention to re-establish relations with Moscow in this endeavor.
What are your thoughts on the India-China rivalry?
This rivalry certainly works to limit the unity of BRICS compared to any other factor. While India’s relations with Russia are not as tense, Delhi is concerned about Moscow’s growing dependence on Beijing. India believes that China is exerting its influence on BRICS and other major groups like the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which are seen as countermeasures to Western influence. Delhi assesses that it can enhance its national interests more effectively on platforms where China is either absent or has minimal influence, such as Quad (with the US, Australia, and Japan), I2U2 (with Israel and UAE), and G20.
What are Brazil and South Africa’s priorities?
Brazil’s focus is on slowing down the extensive discussions; its concerns revolve around reducing China’s influence as a supportive organization. However, on August 2nd, President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva publicly dismissed the report that Brazil was a major obstacle to admitting new countries and released a more supportive statement on potential expansion.Brazilians don’t want to be viewed as the only holdout while China actively pushes for expansion to lessen Indian hostility to its development.. Thus, their strategy will be to slow down expansion and have a very selective approach on who to admit.
For the South African summit, its main priority will be affirming its role as a major player on the African continent (hence this year’s theme, “BRICS and Africa”), which includes possibly emphasizing multilateral reforms that would give the African Union a permanent seat at the G20 (a possibility that may be on the agenda for next month’s G20 meeting in Delhi).
Pretoria will also focus on garnering support for its just transition and increased trade and development support for Southern Africa. Hoping to reduce Western concerns about its ambivalent position on the Russia-Ukraine war, it will likely try to avoid substantial discussions on security issues
Looking at the current political environment, how do you expect the development of BRICS in the near future?
BRICS has never been a cohesive political unit – and it’s unlikely to become one.Brazil, India, and South Africa all want to avoid appearing to be anti-American as the rivalry between China and India grows.
The possibilities for the expansion of the group are uncertain, with only a few more countries likely to join in the medium term, and the possibility of BRICS adopting a common currency in the near future is unlikely.
However, the impact of the group should not be underestimated.
Since economist Jim O’Neill coined the term “BRIC” in 2001 (expanded to include South Africa in December 2010), its members have grown rapidly (especially China and India, whose GDP has doubled in the past decade). While China and Russia are the most overt opponents of American influence, all five want to promote a multipolar international system and reduce the centrality of the US dollar in global finance.
And if one takes a broad perspective – not just considering the potential expansion of the bloc, but also considering Iran’s inclusion in SCO and the growing influence of “swing states” like Saudi Arabia and Turkey – then one sees the emergence of an international system in which global South and Middle powers will continually gain more political influence.