BRICS now a non-western grouping with the induction of six more member nations

Deeper messaging behind doubling of BRICS membership on everything from economic strength to energy

Updated - August 25, 2023 09:16 pm IST

Published - August 24, 2023 09:33 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other world leaders pose for a photo during the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on August 24, 2023. Photo: X/@MEAIndia via PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, Chinese President Xi Jinping, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and other world leaders pose for a photo during the 15th BRICS Summit in Johannesburg on August 24, 2023. Photo: X/@MEAIndia via PTI

BRICS summit

By doubling its number of members, from five to eleven in one quick sweep, the BRICS grouping has strengthened its position as a global grouping to be reckoned with. In addition, the choice of countries, bringing in four major players from the ‘Middle East region’: Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia and UAE, apart from Ethiopia and Argentina from Africa and South America, is significant, as it denotes a shift in the non-western economic grouping’s underpinnings, to make it a more politically relevant bloc. 

Chief amongst the messages the BRICS has sent out is that despite misgivings and even mockery of the cohesion in the grouping in the west, it is an attractive club for members of the Global South. BRICS founders chose from 22 countries that formally applied for BRICS membership, and more than 40 in all that have evinced interest in the group. The message that the summit and the BRICS expansion took place despite the U.S. and Europe’s moves to “isolate” Russia over its invasion of Ukraine, and to push for an ICC international warrant that prevented Russian President Vladimir Putin from travelling to Johannesburg would not be lost on the Western bloc either.

While India may not have been in favour of such a rapid expansion, officials have said it took the lead in drafting the criteria for membership, and the fact that most of the new members are strategic partners of India is the result of India’s efforts. The induction of Iran in BRICS sends a further message against U.S. sanctions, just as Iran’s induction in the SCO this year did, and it is significant that Prime Minister Narendra Modi spoke to Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi before the summit and met him on the sidelines of the summit. 

However, many international observers have pointed out that all the new members have very close economic ties to China, and the acceptance of Iran and Saudi-UAE to the same grouping has only been made possible by the peace deal brokered by Beijing earlier this year. This factor means that in the future, India may have to lobby harder to make its vote in the BRICS grouping count. 

“A measured expansion in BRICS membership was both timely and necessary,” said former Indian Ambassador to Russia D.B. Venkatesh Verma, when asked by The Hindu about the takeaways from the BRICS expansion. “Instead of viewing expansion solely through the prism of big power relations, say its relations with China or the U.S., the bubbling desire for multipolarity in various regions is something that India should embrace and channel within BRICS for its own benefit,” he added.

Push for UN reform

Briefing the media, Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra said the BRICS expansion would also bolster India’s push for UN reform, more representation of the global south and the expansion of the UN Security Council.

Another significant message is the induction of major energy players to the grouping, that is working on a plan for the use of national currencies for, six of the world’s top 10 oil producers will now be members of the BRICS, including Saudi Arabia, Russia, China, UAE, Brazil and Iran

“Now that we are joined by such major players in the energy market as Saudi Arabia, Iran, the United Arab Emirates, of course, the topic of energy will shine in a new light and will be in great demand,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said in a press conference after the summit ended, where he also clarified that the name of “BRICS” will not be changed as it now represents a recognised global “brand”. 

Calling the induction of the UAE to BRICS as an “important milestone”, UAE’s Ambassador to India Abdulnasser Alshaali told The Hindu: “For UAE-India relations, this is an opportunity to continue broadening and deepening our strategic cooperation and economic partnership.” 

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