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U.S. Fears Russian Leadership of BRICS

Jun 05, 2024
  • Wang Youming

    Senior Research Fellow of BRICS Economic Think Tank, Tsinghua University

BRICS 2024 Russia.png

The plenary session of the second day of the meeting of the Heads of BRICS Academies of Sciences on 30 May 2024. The BRICS Summit will take place on 22–24 October 2024 in Kazan.

As the Russia-Ukraine conflict drags on, Russia has assumed the rotating BRICS presidency. In the first year following a major BRICS membership expansion, Russia will inevitably take advantage of the opportunity to enlarge its external strategic space to maximize its global strategic interests.

Looking back on the 18-year history of BRICS, almost all member countries left a mark on its mechanisms by embedding their respective interests in the institution’s agenda during their presidency. Similarly, Russia, which has endured plenty of U.S.-led Western suppression, will undoubtedly try its utmost to promote the following four goals in this year’s greater BRICS cooperation, so as to dye BRICS a thick “Russian color” — a critical factor the United States is most afraid of and which it is trying to prevent. 

1. Push for BRICS energy partnership 

As early as July 2014, Russian President Vladimir Putin put forward the idea of a BRICS energy alliance. The Russian proposal derived from its rich natural gas reserves, which ranks first globally, in addition to its proven petroleum reserves, which account for 9 percent of the world’s total. Although Russia is not an OPEC member, its energy industry and policies have significant influence on the world energy situation.

Russia intends to avail itself of its presidency this year to promote the BRICS energy partnership, which clearly echoes Putin’s alliance concept. The partnership is meant to guarantee member countries’ energy supplies and energy security and elevate BRICS countries’ bargaining power and influence in the global energy market.

The enrollment of such energy-rich nations as Saudi Arabia, Iran and the UAE has put the so-called greater BRICS in a leading position in shaping the future of the global energy landscape. According to Russian Vice Minister of Energy Sergey Bocharnikov, the country intends to build a BRICS energy partnership with three measures:

• deepening energy cooperation among BRICS nations;

• enhancing tech innovation with new energy sources; and

• upgrading BRICS’ role in global energy discourse.

This is seen as the way to establish a decisive role for BRICS in the global energy market. If Venezuela, which holds the world’s largest proven petroleum reserves, could join BRICS, as it wishes to do with Russia’s help, the group’s impact on the global energy landscape would be obvious. President Nicolas Maduro’s proposal of “de-dollarization” will make the U.S. shudder. 

2. Establish BRICS grain trading system 

Russia has long been enthusiastic about creating BRICS grain cooperation mechanisms. Most BRICS members are major grain producers. Even before the membership expansion, total grain output of BRICS members accounted for nearly half of the global total, of which Russia’s annual output stood at around 130 million tons, with exports surpassing 60 million tons. 

Taking advantage of its major power status in global grain production and supply, Russia proposes building a BRICS grain trading system, with its eyes on leveraging global food governance with BRICS advantages. It would increase the institutional power of BRICS nations, including their negotiating power in grain pricing. For Russia, the proposal is even more targeted at breaking extreme sanctions and suppression by the U.S.-led West by means of BRICS grain cooperation. It would turn its grain and chemical fertilizer supplies into a sharp blade in its diplomatic toolbox.

The South China Morning Post reported that Putin has approved a corresponding proposal, and Russia is actively coordinating its implementation. The universal impression is that once Russia completes the regime it envisions, it will deliver shock effects on global grain supplies. Such Western nations as the United States and Australia would lose their monopoly status or dominance in global grain market access, quotas and price negotiations. Russia would help promote the process of Global South countries using local currency trading in grain transactions and de-dollarization. 

3. Form “Bridge of BRICS” payment system 

Even before the Russia-Ukraine conflict, there had been persistent calls in Russia for building a BRICS financial system. After the conflict broke out, the U.S.-led West raised the club of financial sanctions and kicked all major Russian banks out of the SWIFT system, posing a severe challenge for its financial security. The move further stimulated aspirations for divesting from the Western financial system.

After Russia received the baton of the BRICS presidency, following arrangements made at the summit meeting in South Africa, the Russian central bank and finance ministry have been actively coordinating with corresponding government departments in other BRICS member countries to speed up research and draft a feasibility report for BRICS payment tools and platforms. This is expected to be presented before the Kazan summit in October. According to Russian media, Russia has dubbed the BRICS payment system “Bridge of BRICS,” referring to an independent payment regime for trade and investment among BRICS members to ensure that BRICS nations stay immune to primary and secondary financial sanctions by the U.S.-led West — thereby promoting the pluralization of the international financial system. The Russian move has resonated with Iran, a new BRICS member. It announced earlier this year that it had completed an interbank communication and funds transfer regime with Russia, which indicates that the two countries have already abandoned the Western-controlled SWIFT. 

4. Create AI governance framework 

Artificial intelligence has profoundly changed human production methods and lifestyles. It has become an important factor in determining the outcomes of major power games and the future orientation of the international order. The United States is attempting to build a unilateral global AI governance regime by taking advantage of its technological superiority. This has been opposed and resisted by Russia and other BRICS members. 

Russia has defined AI as a leading factor affecting future international strategic stability and has proposed corresponding governing principles. Russia intends to join hands with other BRICS members and become a leading actor in the key realms of the latest round of the scientific and technological revolution. For this, Russian academia has urged the country to initiate a BRICS AI research group as soon as possible; build an AI governance framework with regulatory standards; carry out joint AI technology research, personnel training and policy coordination; and work to provide AI technologies and rights of access to developing countries that have lagged behind, so that Global South countries can share the dividends and protections of AI.

These four goals are heavily colored by Russia, but most of the proposals conform to older BRICS members’ interests. After all, such proposals and visions align with the purposes of BRICS, which are intended to break the international interest regime dominated by the U.S.-led West and thus rebalance the global governance system.

However, Russia’s own will may not translate entirely into the collective will of BRICS. The constraints of internal and external factors brook no neglect.  Internally, each BRICS member has its own interests and calculations, so there won’t be unanimity on all subjects and goals. Externally, the U.S. won’t sit on its hands. Instead, it will do everything in its capacity to prevent the BRICS members from achieving their goals. It will utilize its traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia, for example, to prevent it from building an oil alliance with such BRICS members as Russia — not to mention disallowing a change from the dollar in oil trading.

Similarly, the U.S. will use its leverage as Brazil’s No.1 investor to prohibit Brazilian agricultural authorities from joining a BRICS grain cooperation regime with Russia and other countries.

To sum up, at the Kazan summit — which will be the first global summit in Russia since the outbreak of the Russia-Ukraine conflict — besieged Russia will make full use of its rotating presidency. The BRICS Year of Russia will in no way be less fruitful than 2023’s BRICS Year of South Africa.”

Under the thematic framework of “enhancing multilateralism and promoting fair global development and security,” Russia is determined to promote the four goals by joining hands with other BRICS nations to break the U.S.-led “rules-based order,” build a new international order that reflects global comparative strengths and to work together toward a just, reasonable multipolar world.  

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