Photo’s Source: PBS.org, Russian president Vladimir Putin attends remotely the BRICS summit in August 2023
On January 1, 2024, Russia took over the rotating chairmanship of BRICS, which is under the motto Strengthening Multilateralism for Equitable Global Development and Security. In the context, President Putin expressed expectations of working together with the other BRICS countries and declared that Russia would continue to promote all aspects of the BRICS partnership in three key areas: politics and security, economy and finance, and cultural and humanitarian contacts.
On top of that, according to the Russian President’s website, Putin said that special attention should be paid to strengthening the coordination of the foreign policies of member states, jointly addressing the challenges and threats to international and regional security and stability, ensuring energy and food security, enhancing the role of BRICS countries in the international monetary and financial system, developing interbank cooperation and financial cooperation, and expanding the use of national currencies in mutual trade. In addition, it is necessary to further promote exchanges in science and technology, healthcare, ecology, culture, sports, youth and other fields as well as interactions between non-governmental organizations. Putin also said that all possible measures would be taken to promote the harmonious integration of new members into the BRICS cooperation mechanism.
In this context, this article is to demonstrate the meaning of the presidency of BRICS assumed by Russia in 2024, focusing on elements such as the main goals of Russia, its past experience, the diplomatic approach or the current main tasks of Russia for its chairmanship.
“Breakthrough Battle” of Russia’s Diplomatic Difficulties
After launching the “special military operation” against Ukraine on February 24, 2022, Russia was subjected to extensive political isolation and severe economic sanctions by the international community.
As a permanent member of the UN Security Council, Russia in 2022 basically justified its own actions, excused or blamed other countries for sanctions against Russia in the United Nations. Russia’s actions have also caused many countries to strongly question its “abuse of veto power” in recent years, which has led to a decline in the efficiency of the UN Security Council in maintaining global and regional security. Countries such as Ukraine have even demanded the abolition of Russia’s permanent membership in the Security Council.
As such, the conflict between Russia-Ukraine conflict shows that Russia and the West have very different international strategic views, national security views and moral values. Since the outbreak of the war, the relationship between Russia and the West has completely regressed. Politically, both sides not only accuse and slander each other, but also expel diplomats from each other on a large scale. A series of cooperation agreements once signed have basically become waste paper, and the cooperation mechanism has been comprehensively damaged. Economically, the West has imposed multiple rounds of severe sanctions on Russia, even cutting off energy ties with Russia at any cost. In terms of security, both sides are trapped in an insurmountable “security dilemma”, and mutual concerns, fears, and hostility will keep their security relationship frozen for a long time.
This situation has made Russian strategic figures lament that Russia has abandoned the diplomatic tradition of positioning Russia as a major European power, a component of the balance of power on the European continent, and an integral part of Pan European civilization that has been ongoing since Peter the Great for 300 years.
However, the significant deterioration of the international environment has forced Moscow to prove that it is not isolated. Due to severe sanctions imposed by the United States and Western countries, Russia still needs to attach great importance to non-Western-led international organizations and international dialogue platforms, and actively promote the development of the BRICS mechanism, the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, etc. As planned, in October 2024, Russia will become the rotating chair of the BRICS countries, and at the summit held in Russia, the BRICS countries will welcome new member states. As a result, Russia’s becoming the rotating chair of the BRICS countries in 2024 will be an important opportunity for Russia to carry out home diplomacy in 2024.
Main Goals of the Russia over the Past Two Chairmanship of BRICS
Referring to the past experience, the main goals of the Russian Presidency in 2015 and 2020 could be summarized in two main aspects — promoting the shared interests of the BRICS countries in international forums and increasing multifaceted cooperation among the BRICS countries (BRICS 2015; BRICS 2020). Specifically, several events, including the establishment of the New Development Bank (2015) and the creation of the BRICS Payments Task Force (2020), took place during the Russian presidency. It is thus clear that Russia is an active member in BRICS, and it will continue to promote the BRICS cooperation framework in these two areas.
Setting Meeting Agendas on a New Modality for BRICS Partner Country
With the addition of new members, exploring a new BRICS partnership model has become a priority for the BRICS members. To a certain extent, further expansion of BRICS is highly possible. In Putin’s Jan. 1 speech, he mentioned that in addition to the five newcomers, about 30 other countries wanted to join BRICS. Therefore, the exploration of modalities of a new category of BRICS partner country would be an important part of this year’s work for Russia and other BRICS countries.
Moreover, the exploration is extremely important for countries wishing to join and those that have joined BRICS, especially Russia. For BRICS, the members have been trying to expand the way other countries participate in the BRICS’s activities, such as BRICS+ mechanism proposed in 2017. As for Russia, the BRICS platform has become an irreplaceable way for it to interact with other actors under current international environment. Thus, how to design a suitable modality in the shortest time would be of great significance for Russia, as well as for countries that have not yet joined BRICS.
Focusing on the Accession of New Members to this Cooperation Mechanism
With an interest in different mechanism of expansion in order to promote itself as the champion of the Global South and counterweight the Western formats, the BRICS members have expanded their invitation for accession for several countries, out of which only five countries have accepted and joined this format at the beginning of 2024. Unlike its regional neighbour the UAE, Saudi Arabia has not yet reached an agreement to join the BRICS because of the potential political concerns, even though the entire BRICS format is rather engaged in the economic and adjacent domains. However, the work towards the accession is a current task of the Russia chairmanship, with negotiations being held to reach the final agreement.
The Saudi political concerns refer to its relations with important actors such as Russia, China and the US, given the rivalries between those actors. Furthermore, the Kingdom already counts China and India, two main actors within the BRICS, among its main economic partners, an aspect which plays a considerable role in the process of negotiation for adherence to the format. Also, by adhering to this still reduced multilateral format, Saudi Arabia would diversify its foreign policy and develop its economic ties with the other members, including its ties with the renewed diplomatic partner Iran, a member since January 1st.
It is important also to highlight that the participation of Saudi Arabi in the BRICS would increase the economic power of this format, becoming an important competitor for other economic actors. Still, Saudi Arabia considers all the other organizations and multilateral platforms it is involved with before reaching a decision regarding the BRICS. Therefore, the Russian focus in 2024 to help its Saudi partner in the ongoing negotiation process is part of the effort to develop further cooperation mechanisms for other potential BRICS member countries.
Promoting Further Cooperation among BRICS Countries in Different Areas
Coming back to the fields of interest, the BRICS framework includes three areas — politics and security, economy and finance, and cultural and humanitarian contacts. The framework not only contributes to the promotion of multilateral cooperation, but also the formation of a common identity among BRICS countries. For Russia, the second area, especially in the aspect of energy trade, is of special significance. According to the data from OPEC and Energy Institute, after the entry of five new countries, the BRICS countries’ share of oil production in the world will be more than 46.8%, and the share of natural gas production will be more than 34.5%. And Russia, as a major energy producer and member of OPEC+, is likely to push for a complementary interaction mechanism with the new members, which are also in OPEC so that the roles and duty of the two organizations will be clearer.
Moreover, the area of cultural and humanitarian contacts should not be ignored. The 2024 BRICS Games is meant to have 22 more sports than the 2023 one. This is also a clear indication of Russia’s determination to promote multifaceted cooperation among BRICS countries.
Working for the Reform of the International Financial System
In recent years, a wave of “de-dollarization” has been sweeping the world. Countries are pursuing the use of their own currencies in international trade, which has become a major trend, and more than ever, the BRICS countries are accelerating this process.
As Russia officially took over the rotating presidency of the BRICS countries, an important agenda proposed by the country, namely to promote the reconstruction of the BRICS payment system, as another goal of this chairmanship, has attracted widespread attention from the international community. For a long time, the status of the US dollar as the global reserve currency has been key to maintaining its financial hegemony. Many countries rely on the US dollar for settlement in international trade, which allows the United States to impose economic sanctions on other countries through monetary policy and exchange rate manipulation. In 2023, the RMB occupied an important position in Russian foreign exchange transactions, becoming the largest foreign currency traded on the Moscow Exchange. According to Russian media quoted by Russian exchanges data, the RMB accounted for 42% of all foreign exchange transactions in Russia, with transaction volume more than doubled year-on-year, reaching 34.15 trillion rubles (about 2.72 trillion yuan). In 2022, the RMB accounted for only 13% of foreign exchange transactions in Russia. At the same time, the US dollar accounted for 39.5% of foreign exchange transactions in Russia.
Russia’s push to rebuild the BRICS payment system aims to reduce its dependence on the US dollar and thus reduce the impact of US sanctions. Objectively, it can promote the reform of the international financial and monetary system, enhance the representation and voice of developing countries, and promote the international monetary system to continue to move towards diversification, to some extent meeting the urgent needs and common expectations of emerging economies and developing countries.
The Multipolar World Order as an Irresistible Historical Trend
Since the BRICS countries have more than 3 billion people put together, their global GDP purchasing power parity surpasses that of the G7. In the past decade, the BRICS countries’ investment in the global economy has doubled, and their total exports account for 20% of the global total.
Therefore, the expansion of the BRICS countries has poured cold water on the Western bloc, which cannot accept the concept of a multipolar world. Russia’s Komsomolskaya Pravda said on January 2nd that the potential of the BRICS countries’ total economic output is already greater than that of the G7. Russian satellite news agency reported on January 3rd that the expanded BRICS countries account for 42% of world oil production and 55% of world natural gas reserves. This is just one indicator of the strength and potential of the BRICS countries, which are striving to get rid of their dependence on the US dollar in international payments. According to the RMB trade agreement, the BRICS countries have achieved some success in this regard. In addition, TASS quoted a newly released report from the Valdai International Discussion Club as saying that the expansion of the BRICS countries “will affect the economy of the BRICS countries and even the world”.
In the context of globalization, the economic ties and interdependence between countries have been deepening. As an important economic cooperation platform, the future direction and role of the BRICS countries have attracted much attention. While safeguarding their own interests and maintaining the principle of non-politicization, strengthening trade and investment cooperation among member states and promoting the establishment of a more just and reasonable international order are the keys to the future development of the BRICS countries.
Bearing this in mind, overall, Russia, as an active member of BRICS, will further advance its two long-term goals within BRICS in 2024 — promoting the shared interests of the BRICS countries in international forums and increasing multifaceted cooperation among the BRICS countries especially the latter goal. Furthermore, as a result of the expansion of BRICS, Russia will also focus on promoting the development of a new BRICS partnership modality to realize the shared interests of countries that have or have not joined BRICS, including itself.
Disclaimer. The views and opinions expressed in this analysis are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of MEPEI. Any content provided by our authors is of their opinion and is not intended to malign any religion, ethnic group, club, organization, company, individual, or anyone or anything.
About the author:
Mrs. Jun Qiao is student at Anhui University, China and Mr. Mingxuan Huang is student at the Yunnan University, China. They are interns at MEPEI.