The 14th annual summit of leaders from the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) began on June 23. Russian President Vladimir Putin used his speech to ask the bloc’s other leaders for support and call for closer economic ties as Russia looks for new markets in the face of Western sanctions.
The summit, which was hosted by Beijing via videolink, had the official theme “Foster High-Quality BRICS Partnership, Usher in a New Era for Global Development”.
As the theme suggests, the summit was used by some countries to promote an alternative style of global economic and diplomatic leadership in which emerging countries play a bigger role.
Putin called for co-operation in the face of what he called “selfish actions” by the West. He added that sanctions are no more than Western states "using financial mechanisms" to "transfer their own mistakes in macroeconomic policy on to the whole world."
In contrast, Putin said that Russia could “count on the support of many Asian, African and Latin American states striving to pursue an independent policy.”
Indeed, Russia is actively increasing its trade with non-aligned and friendly countries in an effort to plug the gap left by Western money. India and China alone are now buying almost as much oil Russian as Europe was before Russian troops entered Ukraine. According to Putin, Russian trade with the BRICS group increased by 38% in the first quarter of 2022.
Out of all the BRICS countries, only Brazil voted to condemn Russia’s actions in Ukraine at a UN vote in March. But Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has not publicly rebuked Russia, insisting that Brazil must stay neutral.
"We are convinced that now, more than ever, the leadership of BRICS countries is needed to develop a unifying, positive course towards the formation of a truly multipolar system of intergovernment relations," Putin said. The term “multipolar world” refers to a model of geopolitical power laid out by Putin in a speech at the 2007 UN Security Conference in Munich. It presupposes that the clout of the US and allies is waning, and that the ensuing world order will give more power to emerging countries, and will not allow any one state to take actions against another without a global “consensus”.
Other BRICS leaders echoed Putin’s thoughts, particularly China’s Xi Jinping.
“We must abandon Cold War mentality and bloc confrontation and oppose the abuse of sanctions,” said the president of the world’s second-largest economy, in an apparent criticism of Western sanctions against Russia.
At a business forum on Wednesday, 22 June that preceded the main summit, Xi called on the international community to “reject zero-sum games and jointly oppose hegemony and power politics”.
Despite the apparent support for Russia, though, BRICS member states have their differences. Most notably, there is friction between India and China over a disputed section of border at Ladakh.
The group’s statement on Ukraine is also particularly nebulous, with few controversial points.
"We have discussed the situation in Ukraine and recall our national positions as expressed at the appropriate forums, namely the UNSC [UN Security Council] and UNGA [UN General Assembly],” the statement reads. “We support talks between Russia and Ukraine" it adds. BRICS countries also reiterated their supported for UN humanitarian assistance to the region.
BRICS states represent a combined 42% of the global population, as well as almost a quarter of the world’s GDP. Economists say that the collective size of the BRICS countries may soon be equal that of the United States.