The BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) group of countries will hold the 14th edition of their annual summit in China next month with a focus on a ‘new era of global development’ as the world continues to grapple with the mounting repercussions of the Ukraine conflict leaving the world divided as West vs the Rest.
There is no surprise that no BRICS member took a position that was uncomfortable to Moscow. They all were guided by trade and economic concerns, diplomatic traditions and historical connections in firming up their positions on Ukraine.
Barring Brazil, there was overwhelming national consensus in taking such a position in every BRICS country.
Brazil, where the political consensus on strengthening the BRICS is more tenuous than in other countries, couldn’t have angered Moscow in any way.
Brazil has a fertilizer-production deficit. Russia accounts for 23 percent of a total of 40 million tonnes of the fertilizers that the country needs to produce corn, soy, sugarcane and cotton.
There is no way President Jair Bolsonaro, whose most loyal supporters include the powerful agribusiness sector, could have upset trade ties with Russia, and he had duly visited Russia to meet President Vladimir Putin shortly before the war began.
Bolsonaro could neutralize Vice President General Hamilton Mourao advocating Western military force in support of Ukraine and comparing Putin to Adolf Hitler by publicly flaying him. Brazil also bats for Putin’s presence at the G20 summit in November in Bali.
Like India, South Africa also has historical reasons not to upset Moscow in an hour of need. Among the powerful factors, it was the Soviet-backed armed resistance of the African National Congress that eventually forced the apartheid regime to the negotiating table.
First and foremost, the western sanctions have made life difficult for people doing business with Russia. And all of the BRICS countries are victims of that. Following the military conflict in Ukraine, Moscow has been hit by unprecedented Western sanctions that have knocked Russia off the global financial system. Almost half of Russia’s $600 billion in foreign exchange is stuck and Russia’s biggest banks have also lost access to the SWIFT global banking messaging system.
To make things more precarious, among the five BRICS countries, three of them, Russia, Brazil and South Africa face an economic downturn.
The border tussle between two of Asia’s biggest economies, India and China, has come in the way of their economic ties realizing greater potential.
That being the case, the BRICS grouping remains at the cusp of a changing global order where the Ukraine conflict has brought to the fore sharp divisions between the west and the rest. As developing countries and members of the G 20 grouping, BRICS nations need a more coordinated approach in dealing with political developments that affect their national economic goals.
India, Brazil, and South Africa assume the G-20 presidency over the next four years and both BRIS and G 20 need to come up with plans to deal with the economic fallout of the Ukraine crisis.
Though the BRICS grouping held out immense promise, there has been no major cohesive action from the countries that could by now have accorded it the status of the most important forum for the developing countries. BRICS could have been a bloc, while managing certain contradictions, and worked seamlessly with the rest of the world. But the western dominance on international finance and trade is so huge that even a group such as BRICS is waking up to the reality of not getting its house in order in time.
Initiatives such as New Development Bank could have by now given some competition to the Western lenders. Despite Russia, China and India in the group, the intra BRICS trade accounts for less than 20 per cent of global trade and the grouping is far away from having its own payment mechanisms, international messaging systems or cards.
Though the BRICS cannot replace the economic might of the West, the western response to the Ukraine conflict shows the grouping needs to do more in dealing with the financial turbulence that shakes the world.
Jayanth Jacob is a foreign policy commentator who covered the ministry of external affairs for more than two decades. Twitter: @jayanthjacob.Views are personal and do not represent the stand of this publication.