The COVID-19 crisis seems to have put Russia’s Presidency of BRICS (a grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) to the test. While each BRICS country is busy fighting the pandemic in its own way, Moscow is trying to make sure that it gains from the crisis.
The plans for 12th BRICS summit, scheduled for July 21-23 in St. Petersburg, are still on, although many believe it could be postponed or organised online. Speaking at a summit in Brasilia on November 14, 2019, Russian President Vladimir Putin said BRICS should pay special attention to expanding foreign policy coordination, primarily at the UN.
Many experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic that highlighted a crisis of globalisation and global governance could help the Russian President convince his BRICS partners to overcome the lack of common vision, especially in the political domain, and lead the group towards filling the void of governance.
A report, “BRICS and the Rivalry Pandemic”, released by Russian think-tank Valdai Club this week, notes that the question of considering BRICS as a global governance institution has now come to the fore. It argues that COVID-19 is another stage for political rivalry that has reinforced some international disputes and conflicts with the U.S. “ratching up its confrontational policy towards China and Russia”. In this scenario, BRICS emerges as an important global governance institution.
“BRICS looks better than other global governance institutions amidst the ongoing COVID crises. There is no blame-game or pointing fingers within BRICS, rather there is only a common vision for intensifying cooperation, including in sectors like healthcare, social welfare,” Viktoria Panova, managing director of the National Committee for BRICS Research, said during an online conference with the report’s authors organised by Valdai Club.
According to Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director at the Centre for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, Moscow, the pandemic has intensified the fight for global leadership and the tools used in this fight, such as economic sanctions and trade wars, would keep developing and improving.
He added that while G7, created during the Cold War, is today used by the leading Western powers to strengthen their position in the competition with non-West and to restore a rules-based international order, BRICS is based on entirely different values, and adheres to the goals and objectives of the UN Charter and the idea of equality.
The BRICS grouping is often criticised for being ineffective. Many, especially in the West, predicted that it would not live long. But BRICS is very much alive, has progressed on developing a common position on the most important matters of the global economy and security and also got institutionalised with the setting up of the BRICS New Development Bank in 2015.
However, disagreements between its members and slow progress shown on the ground when it comes to implementation of initiatives make it quite vulnerable to criticism. This is exactly where the pandemic could help BRICS, experts believe.
So what can be done? “The pandemic has highlighted that the five countries need to pay more attention to speeding up the practical implementation of the projects and decisions that are being agreed on,” said Pavel Knyazev, Deputy Director, Department of Foreign Policy Planning of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Mr. Knyazev added that work should be accelerated on establishing the BRICS Center for Research and Development of vaccines.
The decision to set it up was taken back in 2018 at the Johannesburg summit. Apart from that, BRICS countries are planning to work on an early warning mechanism for outbreaks of infection, the development of diagnostic and preventive measures for the disease, as well as joint epidemiological exercises while the New Development Bank would provide financial anti-crisis assistance to members to fight the pandemic.
The intentions are good, but money could be an issue, said Nandan Unnikrishnan from Observer Research Foundation (ORF), New Delhi. “There is going to be very serious lack of money as all the countries in the BRICS are going to be economically affected because of COVID,” he said. “So at this juncture, BRICS should focus on what is achievable, making sure it uses the crises time to find a common vision, lack of which has always been one its weaknesses.”
(Ksenia Kondratieva is a journalist based in Moscow)