Ideas and Questions for Russia’s BRICS Chairmanship / Georgy Toloraya

Georgy Toloraya, Executive Director of the National Committee on BRICS Research – exclusively for InfoBRICS

As preparations for Russia’s BRICS chairmanship that started in the spring of 2019, are in full swing, the process of grasping the phenomenon is underway globally and in the Russian politics.

When working out the chairmanship highlights, one should bear in mind that initially BRICS was meant primarily as a political project, a project of political elites of non-Western countries aimed at raising their caliber on the international arena and fortify the positions in global management of both political and economic processes.

Does the project still stay in line with its original objective?

Indeed, we are witnessing a gradual increase of the role of caliber and strengthening of BRICS states’ position in global management. Though separately, not together. Probably our countries have not yet prepared, not yet become mature enough for assuming a collective responsibility for the processes that the humanity is undergoing. Moreover, certain subjective and short-term factors also play a role here. The political elites of BRICS countries hardly exist in outer space, they depend to different extents on known global management institutions, on the hegemony of the modern world order, both objectively in the politics and economy, and subjectively, frequently at the level of interests of certain individuals.

Escalating inconsistencies of national strategies of member-states have joined the list of negative factors of global environment complicating rapprochement within BRICS over the past couple of years as well. That concerns China’s relations with other countries in the first place.

It feels like China, which initially, by President Putin’s behest, considered BRICS as one of major projects for bolstering its global influence, and as a platform for consolidating non-Western developing nations that it ranks with, has disengaged from that format in a way over recent years, particularly as the most important instrument for reaching that goal. Beijing has focused on its Belt and Road project, which slightly shaded BRICS. For example, symptomatic was the fact that China focused on the establishment of Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank instead of New Development Bank BRICS, which was being created specifically at that same time, which signaled somehow that China is not estranging itself from BRICS, of course, but does not view it as a priority task in its long-term geopolitical strategy either. The recent Belt and Road Forum in Beijing has emphasized the significance of the project not only for China, but also for Russia, compared with SCO and BRICS/RIC, let us say.

The frictions between China and India, which have recently come to the fore, made the prospects of particularly political development of BRICS even more ominous. It became clear that the tensions between the two countries are not simply of short-lived (such as another escalation of the boundary dispute), but deep-rooted systemic nature. There is definitely inconsistency of national geopolitical strategies. Anyway, for India counteracting China is becoming one of the key tasks of the development of its foreign policy – notably of the ruling class in general, not only the present government, and for a long period. The fact that India has signed off on an Indo-Pacific concept, anti-China in its essence, at the US' instigation, though promoting its own version, has been yet another indication of that.

Currently there are animosities between China and Brazil as well due to a new international political focus of Brazil and the ongoing domestic policy processes in the country. South Africans are also watchful of China's expansion over the African continent. Finally, I dare say that the Russian-Chinese relationship has come to its peak as well. Following the peak, the movement is either flat or downward.

All that makes one wonder what BRICS's mission is under those circumstances? Since it is not really ready to undertake the geopolitical mission, meaning the creation of a new political system of global management yet.

BRICS started as a phenomenon related to economic issues, to overcoming the 2007-2008 crisis. Is it safe to say that it is back on the 'economic rails’ now, at a new twist of development as well, to focus particularly on the problem of development and cooperation?

If so, we have to adjust to that reality. Without forestalling events, it seems that the tone of BRICS Summit in Russia will be more practically applied, economic, rather than globally political.

Of course, at the new twist of development, BRICS is not the one it was in its ‘infancy’ ten years ago. A multi-way and quite serious mechanism of cooperation within the integration has been created, which is an apparent achievement of the past years. We have reiterated the necessity of a formal institutionalization of BRICS, though a number of states feared its supra-national nature. Currently it is virtually happening ‘bottom-up’. An array of dialogue mechanisms has been formed, joint projects are being implemented, though not always as efficiently as one would like to. But that chain of relationships and contracts between departments and specialists and engagement with collaboration among members in separate sectors and fields is already evident. Coupled with institutional projects, such as New Development Bank, Energy platform, possibly, a single payment system and other financial instruments, it makes it possible to state that BRICS has already laid the foundation for dealing with ambitious tasks.

The development and implementation of a certain new model of social and economic development catering to the needs of the epoch is among those big ambitious long-term tasks, the main one in our view, though abstract.

As of now, the fact that ‘liberal capitalism’ is becoming irrelevant has come into the spotlight even in America as the term ‘progressive capitalism’ has been minted. Capitalism, which does not envision such a notable income gap, social differences, negative environmental consequences of the development. Since even America has given though to it, it is necessary to decide particularly within BRICS, which social and economic development pattern BRICS can offer – both to countries belonging it and the ‘circle of friends’, as a sample and as a potential alternative to liberal capitalism, which in many aspects has clearly reached its limit.

In this view, it pays to delve into Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – arguably, many tasks related to what a model like that should address, have been formulated already. That implies that each separate BRICS nation should incorporate those sustainable development goals into own national strategies not verbally, but virtually. That said, each state should be guided by the priority of any goals, both from the viewpoint of the importance of resolving the problems in the field specifically for it, and from the viewpoint of demonstration of its strong points, gaining ground inside BRICS itself.

Countries cannot be ranked, as the west is attempting to do, by the degree of their “compliance with the standard” of SDGs. Though the countries themselves can well rank particular goals from those objectives considering their national interests. How can BRICS states sort out priorities?

Speaking about Russia, in which fields can it try to demonstrate a kind of example to other BRICS nations, and is it equipped to deal with it? Is there enough political willpower and other goal-setting skills? It is necessary to draw a distinction between what Russia should lay political emphasis on within BRICS, what should be prioritized, and what should resources, energy and the potential of joint engagement be spent on. And before the chairmanship starts, that should be resolved, at least in the scientific-theoretical way.