BRICS: Voice of the Global Majority

Russia is approaching the BRICS Presidency with great enthusiasm and diligence.

18 mins read
Yury Ushakov, Russian presidential foreign policy aide [ File Photo]

Russia took the rotating presidency of the BRICS group in 2024. Yury Ushakov, Russian presidential foreign policy aide, has granted TASS an interview in which he previewed Moscow’s priorities, prospects for BRICS development and expansion, and commented on the West’s attempts to impede the association’s activities.

– While speaking about the priorities of Russia’s BRICS Presidency, Vladimir Putin mentioned the development of economic partnership, cooperation in science and innovation, security and counter-terrorism, culture and sports. How do you prioritize these guidelines? Which aspect of BRICS activities is of particular value to us: political, economic or civilizational?

– First of all, I would like to say that cooperation within BRICS is undoubtedly one of the key features of Russia’s long-term foreign policy. Interaction with the association’s members meets the fundamental national interests of our country and fits in well with our systematic policy of forming a fair multipolar world order and creating equal opportunities for all countries to develop.

As the Russian president said in his message published on January 1 on the occasion of the beginning of Russia’s BRICS Presidency, in 2024 we will focus our efforts on promoting the entire range of partnership and cooperation within the framework of the association on three key tracks – politics and security, the economy and finance, and cultural and humanitarian ties. All these three guidelines are of fundamental and equal importance. They have been identified as the priorities of the Russian Presidency, which will be held under the common motto: “Strengthening Multilateralism for Equitable Global Development and Security.”

Let me emphasize that Russia is approaching the BRICS Presidency with great enthusiasm and diligence. A comprehensive Concept of the Russian Presidency has been approved. To implement it, an interdepartmental Steering Committee for Preparing and Ensuring Russia’s BRICS Presidency in 2024 has been established under a presidential decree. This body, which I have been assigned to head, is responsible for coordinating the participation of Russian federal and regional authorities, parliamentary, business and non-governmental organizations in the BRICS mechanisms, and, in general, all issues related to the Russian Presidency, including the preparation of meetings at various levels and, of course, the BRICS summit.

The Steering Committee meets on a regular basis. Working groups have been set up within its framework to oversee foreign policy, financial and organizational issues. All government ministries and agencies, non-governmental organizations and other structures promptly report to the Steering Committee on the progress made and results achieved.

In December 2023, the Steering Committee approved a large-scale plan for events under the auspices of the Russian Presidency. There are about 250 such events to be held in a dozen Russian cities. It is noteworthy that ever more requests are pouring in for hosting additional events in important areas of cooperation within the BRICS framework. Up-to-date information on what exactly is being implemented and planned is regularly uploaded to the website of our Presidency: brics-russia2024.ru.

The BRICS summit in Kazan on October 22-24 will be the key event of the Russian Presidency, of course. Moreover, it will be the first BRICS summit following the group’s enlargement. Let me remind you that at the meeting of BRICS leaders in Johannesburg last August a decision was made to invite new members to the association. Starting from January 1 it includes 10 countries. The twofold increase in the number of BRICS members undoubtedly opens up vast prospects for the further strengthening of the role and authority of our association internationally. At the same time, of course, Russia, as the current president of the organization, has a special responsibility to ensure the fastest and smoothest integration of the new members into the operation of all BRICS mechanisms. This is undoubtedly a cornerstone and high priority task of our Presidency.

– What is the reason behind the choice of Kazan as the venue of the 2024 BRICS summit?

– That Kazan was chosen as the venue for the summit is no coincidence. All essentials are in place for the city to host a meeting of world leaders at a decent level. There is a well-developed transportation network, tourist infrastructure, and, in general, a comfortable modern urban environment. The leadership of the Republic of Tatarstan, I should say, has “gotten the hang of it” and has been hosting various international forums with great success for many years.

Steering Committee members make frequent trips to Kazan to monitor in real time mode all preparations for the summit and for the meeting of numerous delegations of the BRICS member-countries. The Steering Committee stays in touch with the leadership of Tatarstan – with all those who are responsible for specific tasks facing the city ahead of such a large-scale event.

The Steering Committee keeps a close watch on what is being done to ready more than 50 city hotels and other facilities for the accommodation of foreign heads of state and government and the accompanying officials and personnel. Due attention is paid to ensuring that the room stock should meet the highest standards of comfort and safety requirements. The local authorities are tightly engaged in upgrading infrastructure and improving urban areas selected to accommodate the guests and, of course, in preparing the sites of the summit’s events.

The leaders’ negotiations and key meetings will take place inside the Kazan Expo International Exhibition Center. This is a unique compound, one of Russia’s largest and most modern in terms of technical equipment. Kazan Expo was built to host large-scale events for tens of thousands of guests. Just recently it saw the opening ceremony of the Games of the Future, attended by the president of Russia and a number of foreign heads of state. The compound’s location is very convenient – it is a five-minute ride from the airport and a twenty-minute ride along the expressway from the center of Kazan. Free shuttle bus services will also be available for all Kazan Expo guests throughout the summit.

Now, back to the program of Russia’s BRICS Presidency. I would like to mention that many events have already taken place. In particular, the BRICS finance ministers and central bank governors’ meeting, the BRICS senior officials committee meeting on energy, expert consultations on information security, anti-money laundering and countering the financing of terrorism, the youth volunteer conference, and the BRICS nuclear medicine working group session have already taken place. The sherpas and sous-sherpas from the member states responsible for the substantive content of the BRICS cooperation agenda maintain regular communication. At the end of January and beginning of February they met in Moscow.

In other words, the official schedule of BRICS events in 2024 is very tight and eventful, and the range of themes – multifaceted and ambitious.

– Will BRICS remain a club of “big countries”, or can smaller states also aspire accession?

– Let me start with a quick look back at the history of BRICS. The very acronym BRIC – Brazil, Russia, India and China – was coined in 2001 by a Western analyst (Jim O’Neill, of Goldman Sachs), who, having studied the economic potential of the developing countries, arrived at the conclusion that these four countries would determine the direction of the world economy and politics in the XXI century. In fact, he forecast the creation of our association. Just five years later – in 2006, on the sidelines of the 61st session of the UN General Assembly in New York, the foreign ministers of Russia, Brazil and China and India’s defense minister held a special separate meeting to agree to develop diversified cooperation on a four-party platform.

In 2009, the first-ever summit of the four countries was held in Yekaterinburg. In the final Joint Statement, they agreed to develop consistent, active, pragmatic, open and transparent dialogue and cooperation not only to the benefit of the developing countries and emerging markets, but also to build a harmonious world order that would ensure lasting peace and shared prosperity. The question arose as to what the association should be called. It turned out that the initially academic term BRIC was quite suitable. This is what we agreed on with our Brazilian, Indian and Chinese counterparts.

With the accession of the Republic of South Africa in 2011, another letter – “S” – was added to the BRIC acronym. In the relatively short period of its existence, the BRICS association has rapidly developed and transformed into an extensive multi-level mechanism of interaction on a wide range of issues on the global agenda. In particular, I would like to mention the BRICS summit in Ufa in 2015, which saw the emergence of the first financial institutions of the association – the New Development Bank and the Contingent Reserve Arrangement – with a combined financial reserve of $200 billion. This clearly demonstrated the growing influence of our countries on the global economy.

By the way, BRICS has already surpassed the Group of Seven in terms of purchasing power parity: the group accounts for 35.6% of the global GDP, while the G7 accounts for 30.3%. By 2028, the situation will evolve further in BRICS favor: 36.6% versus 27.8%.

It is no coincidence that our president drew attention to this in his Address to the Federal Assembly. The collective share of the member states in the global economy is $58.9 trillion. BRICS accounts for more than one-third of the Earth’s dry land (36%), 45% of the world’s population (3.6 billion), over 40% of all oil production, and about a quarter of the world’s exports of goods.

Such a high prestige and a really serious constructive role of BRICS in the world economy and politics naturally attract the attention of other countries, which have begun to show a desire to join the association’s activities in one way or another. Many perceive BRICS as a prototype of multipolarity, a structure uniting the Global South and East on the principles of equality, sovereignty and mutual respect. BRICS approached last year’s 15th Summit in Johannesburg with a whole package of applications for accession from more than twenty countries. Therefore, the summit made a fundamental political decision to expand the association. Thorough work was carried out to determine the range of countries to be admitted in the first place. As a result, an agreement was reached to invite six countries – Egypt, Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Argentina – to enter BRICS as full members starting from January 1. By the way, it was also agreed at that time to keep unchanged the name BRICS, which is well-recognized in the world, even after the enlargement. This allows us, among other things, to further emphasize the continuity of our work in the association, as well as the key role of the founding countries.

– When can we see another round of BRICS expansion?

– Given the expansion that has taken place, Russia’s BRICS Presidency this year has a special mission: to ensure a smooth incorporation of all new members of the association, while at the same time preserving and enhancing all the achievements accumulated over years and preserving and developing the experience of effective cooperation. For this purpose, first of all, we will focus on the organic integration of “new-comers” into the architecture of partnership mechanisms, and on familiarizing them with “BRICS culture” that has been established over 15 years. Federal executive authorities have a clear task: in close coordination with the Russian Foreign Ministry to actively and proactively involve the five new countries in the BRICS processes, to brief them on how cooperation in the association is organized in practice.

This is the case with the new BRICS members that have already been admitted. However, the number of those wishing to establish some cooperation with our association continues to grow. Whereas by the Johannesburg summit, as I mentioned above, there were just over twenty of them, today we have received a number of new applications. Although it is premature to speculate about a second “wave” of expansion, all the countries of the association agree that the interest toward BRICS, displayed by many countries can only be welcomed and encouraged. This clearly demonstrates that the principles on which our association operates are very close to a wide range of countries, in fact, to the global majority.

In this connection, I recall that another important decision was made in Johannesburg. It concerns the development of a new form of interaction between BRICS and non-member countries. The issue on the agenda is to define the modalities of a new, special category of BRICS partner states, which would participate in cooperation on specific projects in both the political and economic spheres.

– Under its new president Argentina has decided against joining BRICS. Will the association keep the door open to that country?

– As for Argentina, as is known, the presidential election was held there at the end of last year. The new Argentine administration declared that it did not see its country as a member of BRICS and sent official letters to all heads of state of the quintet. This was the choice of the Argentine authorities, and it should, of course, be respected. But, in principle, in terms of its political and economic importance, that country is certainly worthy of being a member of our association.

– Have there emerged any clear criteria for BRICS candidates to meet?

– Throughout its presidency, Russia shall be working on the criteria for selecting and nominating such partner countries. Both these yardsticks and a specific list of likely partners are to be agreed upon by all BRICS members and submitted to the Kazan summit for approval. It is quite logical that in the future, as partner countries gain experience of cooperation within the framework of various BRICS mechanisms, their applications for full membership will also be considered. In discussing specific candidates, of course, the political and economic weight of this or that candidate country and its place not only in its region, but also in the international arena as a whole will be borne in mind. Support for the principles of multipolarity and a greater role of developing countries in global governance, as well as the fundamental values of the BRICS group, such as the spirit of equality, mutual respect, openness, inclusiveness and constructive cooperation, is an indispensable condition.

But, of course, the well-tested mode of interaction with friends and like-minded countries – “Outreach”/”BRICS Plus” – will stay effective. In fact, this is an ad hoc platform, where the leaders of states keen to make their own constructive contribution to the discussion of crucial issues on the international and regional agendas are invited to the BRICS summits. For instance, last year our South African friends invited a wide range of African countries to the summit in Johannesburg. This year Russia is planning to hold an “Outreach”/”BRICS Plus” summit meeting in Kazan by inviting the heads of member states and heads of executive bodies of the Eurasian Economic Union, the Commonwealth of Independent States, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, and possibly a number of other countries and regional organizations.

– How do you see the Western countries’ attitude to BRICS? Are there any signs some of them may be interested in joining the association?

– It is all quite clear. They are certainly not delighted to see the BRICS growing authority and influence. Let us be honest – they are outspokenly jealous about its expansion, as well as about the fact that the countries of the Global Majority would like to unite more closely for cooperation on the BRICS platform. We have seen considerable evidence of the Western opponents trying to hamstring and weaken our association.

To put it in a nutshell, BRICS, as well as the very objective process of creating a new world order, have irreconcilable opponents who are determined to impede this process and prevent the establishment of new, independent centers of development and influence in the world. BRICS does not compete with anyone. Nor does it challenge anyone. It is not an anti-Western association. By the way, our President has stressed this many a time.

– Economic and financial cooperation is the most important field of BRICS activities.  As is well-known, the New Development Bank is up and running under the group; there is also the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, which makes it possible, when necessary, to properly react to crisis processes in the global economy. The possible introduction of “a single BRICS currency” has recently been under discussion in the expert community.  In addition, President Putin has repeatedly highlighted the importance of cooperation in the humanitarian area, as well as in the fields of culture and sports. Could you please tell us more about the ideas and proposals that the Russian Presidency has prepared for BRICS partners on the above-mentioned issues?

– As for the economic track, the Russian Presidency will focus on issues related to further strengthening strategic partnership between member states in the fields of trade, investment, innovative technologies and social affairs. The common goal is to create conditions for the steady economic growth of all BRICS nations. To achieve that, we will need to step up multifaceted cooperation between our countries’ business circles and expand business ties, particularly between small and medium entrepreneurs. We will search for the best ways to increase mutual trade and investment, as well as to address ways to ensure financial stability.  We will also explore the possibility of unhindered cooperation amid risks related to growing unilateral sanctions and protectionist measures.

We see increasing the role of BRICS counties in the international currency and financial system as a specific task for this year. In the 2023 Johannesburg Declaration, the leaders enshrined our countries’ determination to boost transactions in national currencies and strengthen correspondent banking networks to secure international transactions. Work will continue to develop the Contingent Reserve Arrangement, primarily regarding the use of currencies different from the US dollar. We believe that creating an independent BRICS payment system is an important goal for the future, which would be based on state-of-the-art tools such as digital technologies and blockchain. The main thing is to make sure it is convenient for governments, common people and businesses, as well as cost-effective and free of politics.

Together with our partners, we are also working on initiatives concerning pressing issues such as the safety and sustainability of global transport chains, ways to improve transport efficiency and reduce logistics costs. It is particularly about the accelerated development of the North-South transcontinental corridor. It is a major thoroughfare that will connect Russia’s northern and Baltic ports to sea terminals on the coast of the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean and will be able to secure the annual transit of up to 30 mln tons of cargo in the future. Besides, Russia has suggested establishing a permanent BRICS commission on transport, which would not only work on the North-South project but will also address a wider range of issues related to the development of logistics and transport corridors, both regional and global.

As for science and innovation, measures will be taken to implement the Cooperation Agreement on the BRICS Remote Sensing Satellite Constellation and promote the Russia-developed Code of Ethics for Artificial Intelligence. We plan to do everything possible to facilitate cooperation between our countries’ science parks and business incubators based on the iBRICS Innovation Network. We are certainly interested in expanding ties between academic and science centers, research and higher education facilities in member states, including through the BRICS Network University. Member states’ joint work aimed at ensuring the mutual recognition of academic qualifications and improving university rankings systems is also part of these efforts.

We seek to work closely with our BRICS partners to deepen cooperation in the field of digital economy, information and communication technologies and innovations. It is an extensive set of goals, which includes efforts to develop digital trade, introduce artificial intelligence, process Big Data, manage the Internet of Things and help organize technology startups. Dialogue between tax, customs and anti-monopoly authorities is being stepped up at Russia’s initiative, as well as interaction on the BRICS Energy Research Cooperation Platform. We expect that member states will support our idea of creating a BRICS contact group on climate and sustainable development.

As for the important field of healthcare, we will continue efforts to promote the Russian initiative to launch the Integrated Early Warning System to Prevent Risk of Mass Infectious Diseases. In addition, we suggest establishing the BRICS Medical Association and the BRICS Medical Journal, as well as building closer coordination within the group’s Task Force on Nuclear Medicine. Issues pertaining to resistance to antimicrobial drugs, the development of social medicine and support for persons with disabilities are also on the agenda.

Let me specifically highlight that the Russian Presidency is seeking to deepen the entire range of humanitarian ties, particularly in the fields of culture, youth exchanges, sports and tourism. There are plans to hold BRICS cultural and film festivals, the Academic and Civic forums, the Youth Forum and the Youth Camp, as well as the Forum of Young Diplomats. The BRICS Plus International Municipal Forum and the traditional Forum of Sister Cities and Municipalities will also take place.

The open-door BRICS Games will be held in June, to which athletes from over 60 countries have been invited. Competitions in 29 sports are included in the program.

– The Games will take place a month before the Paris Olympics. Does Russia aim to hold them as an alternative to the Olympic Games and give an example of a sporting event free of politics? Or is it just a festival-like friendly competition?

– The initiative to hold BRICS Games does not come in response to the illegal and discriminatory restrictions in the field of sports that were pushed through by the West, but is rather another option for diversified cooperation between member states in various fields; this time, it is the field of sports. It is not a one-time event as it has been a traditional item on the agenda for every country’s presidency since 2016. In particular, South Africa hosted the Games in Durban in 2023. This year, Russia is hosting this tournament; notably, all the interested counties are guaranteed equal access to full-fledged participation in the games. By the way, teams from BRICS countries were well represented at the innovative Games of the Future in Kazan that ended recently. 

– “Politics and security” is one of the main areas of cooperation within BRICS (according to the Johannesburg Declaration). In your view, will the group’s members be able to exchange security commitments in the future like it is done within the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO)? Is Russia interested in it? Is there any discussion of the possibility of holding BRICS military exercises?

– Russia’s BRICS Presidency does feature quite a broad agenda addressing political and security cooperation. There has never been a military aspect to cooperation within our group. I do not think I will reveal a secret if I say that BRICS does not have plans to build such cooperation, including military drills.

Now, to our specific goals for the year. We plan to continue holding regular meetings of foreign ministers and high representatives for security issues. We will also contribute to enhancing ties between representatives of BRICS countries within the United Nations and on other key multilateral platforms. There are also plans to boost the practice of meetings between heads of the member states’ diplomatic missions in third countries. All this will allow us to make a useful and much-needed contribution to resolving pressing global and regional issues and establish sustainable mechanisms for the group’s cooperation with interested developing countries.

I would like to point out that BRICS cooperation in the field of politics and security is free of ideological bias and double standards but is based on respect for the sovereignty of member states and the principle of non-interference in their domestic affairs. Meanwhile, we make sure that national interests and priorities are properly taken into account along with the experience and specific features of each member state. Our relevant agencies exchange information as partners, making it possible to identify and neutralize certain threats.

BRICS members are committed to settling differences and disputes through dialogue and consultations and support all efforts that facilitate the peaceful resolutions of crises. We seek to contribute to strengthening the system of arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, and jointly stand for preventing the deployment of weapons and an arms race in space.

In the field of the fight against terrorism, we plan to actively use the relevant BRICS task force, doing everything possible to facilitate the implementation of the BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy adopted in 2020 during the previous Russian Presidency. We take a similarly serious approach towards achieving practical goals related to combating drug trafficking and money laundering and cutting off the channels of criminal funding.

The Russian Presidency calls for taking information security cooperation to a higher level. Since the development of technologies also creates new opportunities for using them for criminal purposes, there is a need to work together to develop universal rules, norms and principles of responsible behavior in the information space. BRICS has created a task force on security in the field of using information and communication technologies. We also expect that Russia’s ideas to start exchanging information on computer incidents and adopt a memorandum on information security within BRICS will find support.

BRICS cooperation in the fight against corruption is also progressing. Our countries conduct anti-corruption training sessions and share their expertise in investigating illegal financial flows and recovering stolen assets.   

We will certainly pay special attention to the development of inter-parliamentary ties. St. Petersburg will host the BRICS Parliamentary Forum in July, which will be preceded by the first meeting of heads of parliamentary foreign affairs committees from the group’s member states. We are confident that these meetings will give impetus to further efforts to enhance parliamentary ties within the expanded ten-member group.

– Is it right to describe BRICS as “the G20 minus the West” after the group’s expansion? Will BRICS be able to become an alternative to the Group of 20 and a counterweight to the Group of Seven, or are they just completely different platforms with different goals?

– I will reiterate that Russia has never set BRICS in opposition to other international platforms, be it the Group of 20 or the Group of Seven. However, we believe that the association is unique. BRICS is a self-sustaining mechanism, which, as it has been repeatedly pointed out, plays one of the leading roles in shaping the global agenda. Over the years of joint work, the group’s members have developed a special culture of dialogue between the counties that represent different civilizations, religions and regions. The group’s members enjoy open and trusted relations based on the principle of sovereign equality, respect for each other’s choice of a development path and a guarantee that everyone’s interests are taken into account. This is what always helps find common ground and solutions to the most difficult issues.

Moreover, in all of their actions, statements and declarations, as well as in practice, BRICS nations show openness to a fair and equal dialogue. Together, we call for building horizontal network ties between various regional and sub-regional integration processes in Eurasian, African and Latin American countries. It is particularly about platforms such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) and the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU). By the way, the EAEU maintains robust cooperation with its Chinese partners, particularly in implementing Beijing’s Belt and Road project. I would like to emphasize that all these processes are expected to accelerate and become more eventful. 

This kind of multi-level cooperation is expected to become the basis of a fairer multipolar world order and a model for equal state-to-state communication aimed at finding responses to the challenges the world is facing. I think that the recipe for BRICS’ attractiveness and success is based on the absence of a confrontational or “hidden” agenda. I will repeat that it brings together like-minded countries. Its members do not build cooperation on the leader and follower logic; rather, we make agreements through consultations and make decisions collectively, in compliance with the inviolable principle of consensus.

In conclusion, I will stress once again that guided by these approaches, BRICS countries really, practically express the interests of the Global Majority.

Interviewed by Ekaterina Korostovtseva for TASS

SLG Syndication

SLG Syndication is committed to aggregating excerpts from news published by international news agencies and key insights on contemporary issues published by think tanks. Our aim is to facilitate the expansion of its reach while giving due credit to the original source.

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