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  Geopolitical aspects of the BRICS Association

Viktor Denisenko
2013 04 15

Today quite a lot of attention is given to the geopolitical association BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and the Republic of South Africa (RSA). Although this is neither a real political or economic association nor an international organisation, BRICS is  increasingly being treated as an actually existing international policy entity.  

Moscow is the most optimistic toward BRICS. This year it approved the Concept of the Participation of the Russian Federation in BRICS.  It is quite an interesting document demonstrating Moscow‘s attitude toward cooperation with Brazil, India, China and the Republic of South Africa in the BRICS format. Although the focus in the Concept is given to the economic cooperation, it also implies certain political plans. This means that Moscow wants to retain the BRICS format not only for economic but also for political purposes.

Pursuant to the Concept, the creation of BRICS was initiated in 2006 by the Russian Federation. By saying this Moscow wants to demonstrate that as the initiator it is the informal leader of BRICS. In the above document BRICS is defined as an important polycentric system of international relations, and format of this association meets Russia‘s expectations in the multipolar world. Another interesting thing is that Russia considers BRICS as a space for the development of its language and cultural policy.

Another Russia’s ambition is to enhance (by using the BRICS format) the role of the United Nations (where Russia has the veto right in the Security Council) in the space of international policy. Here we can discern a clear Moscow‘s dissatisfaction in the global processes and in (small) Russia‘s role in these processes.

Russia also seeks to create a common information space between BRICS participating countries. This ambition is not accidental in the Concept: Moscow has long time ago realised the importance of information and its role in the global processes.

However, Russia‘s leadership in the BRICS Association is very doubtful. It is neither the largest nor the most successful participant of the Association. Therefore for Moscow it is quite difficult to find arguments and make others treat it as the leader of BRICS.

According to N.Kosolapov from the Institute of World Economy and International Relations (Russian Academy of Sciences), today China is the leader of the BRICS group. He indicates that BRICS accounts for approximately 40 percent of global foreign currency reserves(China holds three quarters of these reserves).

China‘s factor is important not only within the framework of BRICS but also for the common international policy. That is the reason why Moscow wants to highlight its unique relations with BRICS.  Xi Jinping, the new Chinese leader, has chosen Moscow as his first stop on the overseas voyage, and this visit was widely publicised in the media. According to A.Maslov, director of the China Strategic Research Centre, Xi Jinping has chosen Russia as a compromise because today the West was not relevant for him.   

Russia is important for China as a country of resources, but this might become a problem for Russia itself. Moscow could hardly agree with the status of a „small brother“ in the relations with China and it doesn‘t matter on whether this is to do with the BRICS format or with the bilateral relations. China is not so much dependent on Russia‘s resources to give preference to Moscow in making an economic pressure on Beijing.

The key problem of BRICS is coordination of positions of different countries. First of all the Association embraces the most remotes countries located in Europe, Asia, Africa and Latin America. Modern technologies facilitate political communication between the leaders of the BRICS countries, but their economic models are rather different. Besides, the economic power of the participating countries is also different: China’s economy is 20 times higher than that of the Republic of South Africa (RSA).

BRICS could be treated as a geopolitical association directed against the American hegemony in the global policy. Anti-American moods are popular in Russia and China, but they are hardly relevant for India, RSA or Brazil.

Mutual disagreements between the member countries could shake the fundamentals of BRICS. For instance, China and India still cannot solve the border dispute which started in 1962 and there are still no hints of improvement in these relations.

Thus, perspectives of BRICS are quite vague, and every country can seek own goals: Russia – the support of its policy in the global space, China – global leadership, but this might incite dissatisfaction of other BRICS members. Surely, in the near future BRICS will not disappear from the geopolitical stage, but it would hardly develop into an international organisation or real political and economic union.

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