BRICS Viewed from Russia

ASIA--PACIFIC, BRICS, EUROPE, 25 Mar 2013

Vladimir Shubin – Pambazuka News

There are some who see BRICS as ‘the Center’s fifth column’ whilst Russia sees it as an alternative centre of global influence despite the differing ideological viewpoints of its member states. Russia is committed to BRICS as a constraint to the ambitions of the USA, NATO and the world reactionary forces behind them.

The BRICS summit in Durban, or, rather, eThekwini, naturally draws attention of academics and activists to this group. Opinions on BRICS differ, whether in South Africa or in Russia. Some scholars, on one end of the political spectrum, even called rejoicing at South Africa’s joining ‘an amorphous entity such as the BRICs’ ‘an affront to our national pride’[1], while others, on the opposite side, reduce BRICS to a group of ‘sub-imperialists’ and even ‘deputy sheriffs.’

In Russia the poorly-organised right wing, routed at the two latest general elections is missing Yeltsin’s pro-Western policy of the early 1990s [2], while the ‘disorganised’ part of the left (if I may use such an expression) regards BRICS as ‘the Center’s fifth column.’ [3]

As to the organised left forces, their positive (though cautious) attitude was stated in the Political Report of the Central Committee to the Communist Party’s congress held last February: ‘The emergence of BRICS involving Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa means an application for the formation of an alternative centre of global influence. In the arsenal of those countries – the majority of the world’s population and an increasingly ‘weighty’share of the world economy. In the case of the expression of common will the growing power of BRICS countries can become a serious obstacle to the establishment of a new colonial model of the world.’[4]

DIVERSE IDEOLOGICAL ORIENTATIONS OF BRICS

Let us try to look into BRICS (and Russia’s place in it) objectively, avoiding both calling names and ululation and trying to detect the areas where research is needed. For example, as much as there is written about BRICS, you can hardly find the comparison of the political stand of the ruling parties in BRICS countries.

Meanwhile the picture of ruling parties is rather complicated: the Communist Party in China that still speaks about socialism even if it is often accused of moving towards capitalism; the left-centre Partido dos Trabalhadores in Brazil; the centrist (formerly also left-centrist) Indian National Congress; the African National Congress (a member of the Socialist International – in Jacob Zuma words it is ‘a disciplined force of the left with a bias towards the poor,’ but also a broad church);[5] and finally the ‘United Russia’ (UR) that according to Evgeny Primakov ‘was founded as a right-wing, conservative party.’[6]

CAN POLITICAL PARTIES OF BRICS COORDINATE THEIR POLICIES?

Nevertheless, according to a representative of the UR, it agreed with China that BRICS would ‘have a party dimension. The ruling parties of these countries will try to coordinate their policies.’[7] It remains to be seen whether this ‘dimension’ will be different from inter-governmental relations and whether it will contain some ideological input.

The name of Evgeny Primakov deserves a special attention. We are all aware, that for the first time the term BRIC was ‘coined’ in 2001 by Jim O’Neill of Goldman Sachs Asset Management. However his idea of BRIC was rather far from what happened later, for him BRIC was an object but as a body it at once became a subject of world policy. More related with BRICS of today is the idea expressed by Primakov when during his visit to New Delhi in 1998 he envisioned the creation of a strategic triangle connecting Moscow-Beijing-New Delhi.

As to practical interaction between the first four future BRIC members, it began in 2006 when on Russia’s initiative the first ministerial meeting took place on the ‘fringes’ of the UN General Assembly, and then such a meeting was convened in 2008 in Yekaterinburg, in the Urals to be followed by the first summit in the same place in June 2009.

All these details come to mind when one reads how some academics question ‘the inclusion of the failing Russian state’[8], as if Russia was not an initiator of BRIC!

The creation of BRIC was quite consonant with South Africa’s efforts to create a core of ‘Non-Western’ powers that initially resulted in 2003 in the establishment of IBSA which was regarded in Pretoria/Tshwane just as the beginning of the desirable process.[9]

Yet South Africa initially remained outside BRIC, and disappointment was quite visible. Francis Kornegay, a prominent US academic living now in South Africa, without any argument even called Russia ‘the main culprit in this plot.’[10] But in fact during almost three years preceding the first summit, South Africa did not show interest in the gradual formation of BRIC.

RUSSIA WELCOMED SOUTH AFRICA TO BRICS

However Russia welcomed South Africa’s entry the next year. There were apparently several reasons for it. One of them was the need ‘to close a gap’ in the geographical composition; South Africa is certainly the leading country on the continent, even if not everybody likes it.

Then with its excellent infrastructure it is the ‘gateway’ to an entire continent for trade and investment. And last but not the least, South Africa, the country that got rid of the apartheid regime, occupies a high moral ground.

The rising Russia’s attention to BRICS was highlighted in the period preceding its summit in Durban. It coincided with Russia’s chairing of the G20, and BRICS is regarded in particular as ‘an important ‘locomotive of G20’s development.’[11] The preparation of the 2015 summit to be hosted by Russia has begun well in advance; its venue, Ufa, is the capital of the Republic of Bashkortostan in the Urals.[12]

Recent official statements and academic works show that Moscow’s long-term objective is the conversion of BRICS from a dialogue forum into a full scale mechanism of strategic and ongoing interaction on key issues of world politics and economy.

PERFECTIONIST STANCE OF THE LEFT TOWARDS BRICS

The criticisms of BRICS from the left come from those who occupy a ‘perfectionist’ stance. However it is naïve (at the best) to expect the very existence of BRICS to radically change the world.

I would rather agree with the view, expressed in the above-mentioned Russian Communist Party Political Report. It points to the formation of several intergovernmental bodies in the recent years – such as BRICS, SOC, MERCOSUR, CELAC, etc – and correctly says that this kind of integration is often an expression of capitalist competition. But on the other hand, ‘(t)he formation of such alliances is constraining the ambitions of USA, NATO and the world reactionary forces behind them. This process gives an additional chance to win time before the new forces of resistance to imperialism, forces of socialist choice grow up and become stronger.’[13]

For the author, who first came to Africa over 50 years ago, the evolving situation resembles the early 1960s, when Britain and France changed their methods of control, while the economically much weaker Portugal resorted to brutal repression. And nowadays it looks like imperialist powers, undergoing serious economic difficulties, are no more in a position to use ‘neocolonial’ methods and are increasingly resorting to military force. It became more evident after NATO’s aggression in Libya. Hence the unity of those who are determined to defend their independence, BRICS countries in particular, becomes especially important.

ENDNOTES:

1. Mills Soko and Dr Mzukisi Qobo, South Africa and the BRICs: A Crisis of Identity in Foreign Policy. Mail and Guardian, 7 January, 2010.

2. Irina Hakamada, a former leader of the ‘Union of Right-wing Forces’ (‘Soyuz pravyh sil’) party stated that Russia’s ‘global mission|’ is to ‘close a Northern ring: USA-Europe-Japan’. (http://www.scilla.ru/works/partii07/sps.html.)

3. Anna Ochkina (from the Institute for Globalisation and Social Movements), BRICS: a spectre of alliance (received via Debate network)

4. Pravda, 7 February 2013.

5. http://www.anc.org.za/show.php?id=9989

6. http://ru.wikipedia.org/wiki/Единая_Россия

7. http://www.appf21.com/ru/media/99/

8. Mail and Guardian, Johannesburg, 7 January, 2011.

9. Discussion with a South African minister, 28 April, 2005.

10. http://www.newsfromafrica.org/newsfromafrica/articles/art_11630.html

11. Lukov V. BRIC is an important ‘locomotive of G20’s development (in Russian). http://www.mid.ru/bdomp/brics.nsf/WEBforumBric/B84C7A2A9FB4D01944257B020026CB7D Dr Vadim Lukov is former ambassador to South Africa is Russian su-Sherpa in BRICS.

12. http://www.udprf.ru/press-center/soobsch-smi/2012-12-04

13. Pravda, 7 February 2013.

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