A diversification of partnership areas will give Russia room for manoeuvre and will balance some not entirely mutually beneficial alliances, which in the future will help build and strengthen Russia’s capabilities in the zone of its historical influence, write Evgeny Tipailov and Ivan Angulo.
In August 2023, the BRICS summit ended very successfully. Starting January 1, 2024, Argentina, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, the UAE, Egypt and Iran will officially join the association. Together with the founders of BRICS, these states comprise almost half of the world’s population.
Without exaggeration, we can say that BRICS, after many years of soul-searching and development, has acquired the status of a new multipolar (inter-civilizational) centre of power and attraction. Apparently, the further assembly of a new system of international relations will be carried out via the BRICS+ platform. In addition to the aforementioned countries, which will become new full members of BRICS in 2024, the current candidates for joining the organisation, as well as interested countries, number more than 40 states from almost every continent. The significance of this development is difficult to overestimate. Perhaps this is the first time in modern history that such a large-scale association has taken place without the participation of representatives of the so-called collective West.
This circumstance, naturally, prompted the international expert community to eagerly discuss the prospects for building a new world order based on the expanded BRICS. These prospects, we can say, are indeed limited only by the imagination of the participants in the process and their political will, which, as practice shows, can be a much more significant obstacle.
Thus, based on the results of the summit, on August 24, 2023, BRICS adopted the second Johannesburg Declaration, which, against the backdrop of fairly high expectations, can be characterised as not ambitious enough. We are not talking about the creation of a single currency, an issue that for some reason received special attention from the media. It is difficult to imagine how this goal can be achieved in the foreseeable future in the absence of a unified financial infrastructure and the controversial political prospects for such a solution. We are talking about the BRICS vision of a new world, which, judging by this document, is still in a very embryonic state.
In Article 3 of the Declaration, the parties again noted their commitment to the UN Charter and maintaining the central role of this organisation in the international system. In Article 7, they supported comprehensive reform of the UN, including the Security Council. Interestingly, almost no one notices the rather obvious internal contradiction in this rhetoric. If the central role of the UN in a certain international system is so unshakable, then, firstly, why repeat this like a mantra in every document, and, secondly, why is there such an urgent need for its reform? In fact, everyone knows the answer, but the discourse about truly revising the foundations of the current world order still remains marginal. A review of the place of the UN in the existing system of international communication is indeed long overdue. If earlier one tried not to talk about this at all, now it is customary to package this issue in the form of “reform.” Whether the UN itself will survive the coming “reforms” remains an open question.
Let us note, however, that BRICS diligently continues to play this game, pretending that the prerequisite for the emergence of the association itself was not the total injustice and imbalance of the existing world order, which is one of the reasons why the UN copes with its central role the way it does.
In Articles 8-10 of the Declaration, the parties also directly confirm their commitment to the central role of the WTO in international trade, and the IMF in the financial security system. Indirectly, the parties apparently confirm their commitment to the Bretton Woods system; otherwise why would they mention it, albeit in the context of a call for reforms. Incidentally, the call for reforms is contained in the Declaration in relation to the WTO, but not in relation to the IMF. Apparently, everything works great there.
Of course, this is disingenuous at best. Or, apparently, it is a form of diplomatic compromise that BRICS and its current member countries can afford at the current stage of their political will. BRICS cannot exist as part of the existing Western-centric system of international relations, because if the member countries of this association were part of it, then there would be no need for BRICS. The emergence of BRICS was, in many ways, spontaneous and intuitive. This makes its current condition more valuable.
The very format of this association is free from formalism, heavy institutions and international bureaucracy. In this sense, perhaps BRICS and the future BRICS+ should not formalise their international legal personality too much, maintaining geopolitical plasticity to acquire future forms, not yet fully articulated.
In this regard, it is fundamentally important for the ideological future of BRICS+ that the platform for inter-civilizational international communication now begins to formulate universal (in the sense of the maximum possible coverage of existing states and civilizational systems), and not just supra-regional principles of the future system of the world order. At the same time, as we noted above, based on the content of the Declaration (regarding the role of the UN, WTO or IMF), it seems that at this stage of its development, BRICS+ does not set itself tasks of a universal nature.
This state of affairs is predetermined primarily by the fact that, for example, the UN was built primarily on the basis of the idea of ensuring global security, and the WTO determined the rules of international trade for the whole world following the results of the Cold War. In this context, BRICS+ membership is not objectively representative when it comes to resolving such issues at the universal level at this point. However, the expansion of BRICS lays the foundation for global goal-setting in the future.
Additionally, the philosophical paradigm of postmodernism and the transitive nature of the current international moment predetermine that BRICS+ will inevitably face the fact that the development of the organisation will be largely discrete, somewhat half-hearted and asynchronous in nature. This is because the formational superstructure for the majority of BRICS+ member countries mirrors the capitalist superstructure, which continues to remain, and the leader of this is still the Western world.
However, like universal platforms for the production of automobiles, where sedans, crossovers or SUVs can be simultaneously designed and assembled, the BRICS+ platform must begin to construct such a multi-modular platform for international interaction. It should allow it not only to quickly adapt to the new realities of the international order at the supra-regional level, but also to set individual trends in a global, inter-civilizational context. Such goal-setting may become a necessary ideologeme for the further successful expansion of the composition and spheres of influence of BRICS+.
If we draw historical parallels (which, of course, are very сonventional), then it cannot be ruled out that BRICS+ (designed to solve, among other things, the fundamental problem of Western hegemony in world politics) may turn out to be an intermediate link on the path to a new world order. BRICS+ could be the prologue to the emergence of a new format close to a universal international organisation, just as the League of Nations (designed to resolve, among other things, to address the fundamental problem of the German factor in European politics) became the prototype of the UN system. Or, if the world is structurally transformed into the format of some kind of inter-civilizational multipolar interaction, at a minimum, it will turn into an organisation expressing the interests of the “world majority.”
To achieve this goal, the BRICS+ may try at this stage to bracket out, for example, the issues of the global security regime and the balance of power (which is in fact happening), since without the participation of representatives of the Western bloc it is problematic to formulate it. The approval of such a regime will become possible only following the resolution of the current military-political tensions in the world (although even here it cannot be ruled out that such tensions will last for decades, preventing the agreement on such a regime).
Despite this, it is obviously worth developing and implementing supra-regional elements or the individual concepts of a global security or trade regime within BRICS+ now. As possible initiatives in this direction, we can propose considering (by analogy with the philosophy of the Chinese Belt and Road initiative or the “Common Destiny of Humanity” geopolitical principle) collective security ideas in relation to preserving the Earth (flora and fauna on its surface, in the global ocean and space), the human population and traditional values. Conservation, for example, from the threats of environmental pollution, the consumer depletion of resources or nuclear war.
This is especially important given the fact that, for example, the only purpose of NATO’s existence is to ensure the security of the Western civilizational system exclusively (at the expense or even to the detriment of other civilizational systems). The system of world trade and finance (within the WTO and the IMF) was originally designed in such a way as to ensure, first of all, the interests of its Western creators.
In this article, we will try to offer a somewhat more ambitious vision of the future of BRICS+, outline the approaches that, in our opinion, the BRICS+ should adopt as early as 2024 (when the Russian Federation will chair), and also draw attention to a number of practical, and perhaps historical opportunities that membership in this association brings for Russia.
Order based not on rules, but justice: humanity vs. transhumanism
When designing new approaches to the world order based on BRICS+, it is necessary to understand the spatial aspect of such an association. The spatial dimension provides enormous scope for unification at the value-ideological level, and the formation of a true unity of peoples living in the corresponding space. The most ambitious goals of BRICS+ can be achieved when the association truly represents a community of peoples, and not the economic, political and military forces of its member states. This would be a desirable feature: a civilizational difference from the currently dominant neo-colonial Western-centric world order, when the common system would not grind down national identity for the sake of very specific beneficiaries, but would create opportunities for organic integration without the rigid and sometimes cruel template of liberal democracy, which gravitates towards dictatorship.
Thus, future organisations and institutions created under the civilizational “umbrella” of BRICS+ should be open and integrative tools, and not instruments of veiled coercion.
In this sense, the central aspect of BRICS+ is the people inhabiting its space. It is not enough to simply declare some kind of association; to achieve results, it is necessary to ensure effective cooperation between communities. The humanitarian dimension in this sense is placed ahead of the economic one and creates the necessary prerequisites. It is advisable for BRICS+ in the very near future to ensure freedom of movement for citizens of members of the association, recognition of mutual education and the development of joint BRICS+ programmes, tourism and healthcare, as well as cultural exchange.
It is important to not only formally resolve the issue of a mutual visa-free regime (incidentally, in many cases it has already been resolved), but also to provide appropriate transport infrastructure, tourism support, and business assistance. How many regular flights are there from Moscow to Buenos Aires, Cape Town or Riyadh? Are there platforms for meetings between representatives of culture or the business community? How can tour operators be assisted in promoting these destinations? These are practical questions, the answers to which we need to start looking for right now.
The linguistic dimension is no less important. Our new partners have quite rightly expressed concerns about how serious Russia’s civilisational choice is today. In other words, if current tensions with the West abate, will Russia try to return to the largely dependent and Western-oriented “pre-February 24, 2022” world, as some members of the Russian cultural, economic and political elite seem to wish?
For these purposes, the language of symbolism is quite suitable: at least the optional study of the Chinese language (and, possibly, other BRICS+ languages) in Russian schools would provide a clear and understandable signal. An even more important signal in this regard for Russia, as a unique civilization, would be a multiple increase in funding for initiatives to promote the Russian language in the BRICS+ countries and the world as a whole and to cleanse everyday life from the unhealthy dominance of Anglicisms.
What has brought together a Chinese, Russian, Argentine and Egyptian previously? The idea of a common destiny for all humanity. Otherwise, these contacts in a civilizational sense were of a very fragmentary nature. Now there is a real opportunity to create a humanitarian basis in order to re-design new and long-forgotten old points of contact. The connecting link, in particular, can be traditional values serving as the basis of a civilizational identity.
BRICS countries: architects of economic growth
Freedom of movement and stimulation of communication will certainly lead to the movement of goods and other economic cooperation. In this regard, the flow of ideas cannot have any limits at all. BRICS+ expresses the interests of almost half of the world’s population, which is limited to varying degrees in obtaining Western technologies and access to Western markets, and resolves these issues in very different ways. First of all, of course, the BRICS+ must resolve issues of independence of the banking system, alternative currencies to the dollar and euro, and create or adopt an existing analogue of SWIFT.
Next, it is worth thinking about the mutual recognition of national payment systems and data roaming in order to ensure freedom of payments and online commerce. The widespread use of national digital currencies could make things easier by speeding up transactions and currency conversions, but again this would require significant political will.
Any activity in the following areas has interesting prospects:
– energy: development of a balanced system of energy trade and revision of the climate agenda, taking into account the interests of the leading BRICS+ economies through the fight against global pollution and the development of principles of reasonable consumption;
– food: leading agricultural powers are represented in BRICS+, which creates the basis for coordinating a common policy in the field of production and the supply of food to world markets (a kind of food OPEC) and, as a humanitarian dimension of this issue, BRICS+ members could consider the creation of food banks, which could play a critical role in stabilising the situation with access to food, as well as stabilizing prices for agricultural products, especially grain, during periods of crisis;
– special emphasis should be placed on fresh water and water resources in general: Brazil, Russia and China are among the five countries with the largest sources of fresh water, the BRICS+ states could become pioneers in the field of international legal regulation of human rights to water resources and their protection;
– technologies: exchange of technologies, creation of joint research centres, licensing transformation, joint projects and R&D, etc.;
– investments: the formation of investment funds, the development of new rules and approaches to foreign investments on new principles that would allow us to move away from the current rules, that work primarily in the interests of the collective West;
– law: countering the regulatory dictates and extraterritoriality of Western legal systems (including illegal, anti-competitive and sanctions restrictions limiting fair trade), aimed at reviving the ideas and traditions of mutually beneficial international trade.
Clash of ideologies: liberal dictatorship vs. a pluralism of traditions
The fundamental ideological basis of the BRICS+ community will be traditional values, which, however, does not mean that they are not subject to any rethinking. The cultural dialogue which will undoubtedly follow the introduction of BRICS+ can become the basis for new forms of development of traditional societies, making it possible to create tools that limit destructive practices of external influence aimed at eroding national identity and marginalising national traditions.
At the same time, ideology in today’s realities is not only a shield, but also a sword. Below we will look at several ideas within which human rights activities could develop on the basis of BRICS+, as well as so-called “public diplomacy”.
Combating the ideologies of neo- and post-colonialism: without a doubt, the BRICS+ should play a leading role in helping peoples with post-colonial experience overcome it, gain independence and sovereignty, as well as fight for proper compensation for any damage that was caused.
The fight against the ideologies of exclusivity: as practice shows, the Western world is increasingly failing to admit its historical responsibility of preventing a repetition of the horrors of racism and Nazism. Former Nazi criminals are lionized and celebrated in Western capitals despite their horrific crimes. The BRICS+ has every opportunity to institutionally approach the issue of preserving historical memory and ensure the protection of the memory of victims of Nazi crimes around the world.
As for racism, in addition to the fight against ethnic racism, tools for combating political and social racism should be considered on the basis of BRICS+, bearing in mind the contemptuous and arrogant attitude of the so-called “civilized world” as a “Garden of Eden” towards the ability of states and peoples not belonging to the “collective West” to determine their political destiny and apply original national approaches to governing their states.
The fight against gender ideologies: paradoxically, the issue of protecting the traditional family and childhood has already acquired a truly global dimension. With a certain degree of caution, we can predict that in the not very distant future, gender policies of some states will create conditions when some families will be forced to emigrate from the Western gender dictatorship in order to preserve the traditional family structure. This, as well as the problem of the use of medications on minors for the purpose of gender reassignment, requires reflection and response at the international level. It is obvious that the BRICS+ has the opportunity to demonstrate its potential in this matter.
The fight against anti-clerical ideologies: for most BRICS+ countries, issues of religion and faith are an integral part of the civilizational code of the respective countries. At the same time, because of the aggressive Western policy of deconstructing traditional religious values (just remember the examples of the persecution of the Christian Church in recent years in some countries of the Middle East, Ukraine, etc. with the support of the West), the use of all kinds of manipulative and information technologies in the sphere of religion, the BRICS+ has no choice but to begin an active counter-policy on these issues.
For Russia, in which a multi-coloured scattering of peoples and beliefs is the core basis of the centuries-old development, this area of international activity should become one of the strategic directions in the field of leadership for the preservation of traditional values in a multipolar world.
What kind of edifice can Russia build on the foundation of BRICS?
In the context of BRICS+, it seems very reasonable to reconsider the approach to regional unions. Yes, formally the BRICS+ is a supra-regional union, however, the specific nature of relations with its participants opens up opportunities for Russia in many ways, comparable to historical regional unions.
It is believed that it is critically important for Russia to ensure a high level of interaction with all traditional geographical neighbours. This is due to reasons of security and logistics, cultural proximity and so on. This is true, but the question is how and at what cost it should be done. Most importantly, what will Russia really get from this? The zone of Russia’s historical influence in its spatial dimension will, of course, remain an extremely important aspect of its foreign policy, however, as the experience of the special military operation in Ukraine shows, methods for ensuring Russia’s interests in this space may vary depending on the situation.
At the same time, relations with many of the neighbours are very tense and have demonstrated a tendency towards further degradation. “Traditional partners” and “allies” often seek to use the known external pressure on Russia to their advantage, motivated by Russia’s hopeless, as they see it, situation. At the same time, some seemingly leading allies directly declare, for example, compliance with the regime of sanctions imposed against Russia. In turn, the BRICS+ partners are showing themselves to be much more restrained and constructive.
Today, the peculiarities of Russia’s geographical position, the size of its territory, combined with modern means of transporting passengers and cargo, and the overall level of technology development, allow it to develop, in essence, interstate alliances with any states in general.
It seemed that historically Russia, was doomed to only be friends with its traditional neighbours (the former republics of the USSR), while the conditions of this “friendship” were far from romantic ideals. However, again, Russia’s geographical location, size, technology and logistics capabilities in the BRICS+ environment make it possible to finally go beyond this geographical determinism.
Leaving aside the obvious fundamental and special level of interaction with the allied Belarus, which cannot be questioned in any way, now, at a time of transit to a new world order, relations with China, Brazil and Iran can become not only significant, but perhaps significantly more important than relations with Kazakhstan, Armenia and Georgia. Russia has a historical chance to focus on its own interests, to acquire partners and allies with whom it is possible to build truly mutually beneficial relations, not overshadowed by Russia’s excessive and supposedly historical responsibility to the aforementioned “traditional” partners, which amid modern conditions does not have those grounds and meanings, which were so important just recently.
In turn, such a diversification of partnership areas will give Russia room for manoeuvre and will balance some not entirely mutually beneficial alliances, which in the future will help build and strengthen Russia’s capabilities in the zone of its historical influence.All of the above circumstances oblige us to operate in the categories of large spaces and super-regions when discussing issues of building a new international environment, within which BRICS+ will play a crucial role. The BRICS summit in Kazan in 2024 should become a new starting point for Russia in matters of creating not a “rules-based” world, but a very correct, fair and multipolar world.