With Russia isolated, what will the future of the BRICS look like?

With Western sanctions over the invasion of Ukraine strangling the Russian economy, the future of the BRICS, the alliance of countries that also includes Brazil, India, China and South Africa, is in danger.

Could the international community’s condemnation of Vladimir Putin’s government lead to a rapprochement between the group’s components or lead to the break-up of the alliance, which has not been very active lately?

Ricardo Bruno Boff, professor of the course of international relations at the University of Vale do Itajaí (Univali), mentioned that before the invasion of Ukraine by Russia, the BRICS, created with the aim of building alternatives of cooperation to the Western system of rules and institutions established after World War II, they were already losing momentum, due to Brazil’s alignment with the Trump administration during the first two years of Jair’s administration Bolsonaro and South Africa’s economic problems.

“Now, at this time, as things stand, it is clear that BRICS is no longer a priority, including for Russia. The institution itself is postponed, even the meetings, Putin has certainly d ‘other things on the mind at the moment’, explained Boff, in an interview with Gazeta do Povo.

The other Russian BRICS avoided outright condemnation of the invasion of Ukraine. The day after the war began, India and China abstained in a vote at the UN Security Council condemning the operation (the resolution was overturned with the Russian veto) – South Africa is not on the board and Brazil voted against the Russians.

A position he maintained a few days later in a vote at the UN General Assembly, when the South Africans, Indians and Chinese abstained.

However, despite these condemnations, Bolsonaro did not impose sanctions on Russia and defended a pragmatic position, due to Brazil’s interests in foreign trade with Moscow, such as the import of fertilizers.

China, seen as Putin’s big geopolitical partner, has criticized Western sanctions and offered to mediate a solution to the conflict, but this week the US press reported that the country plans to help financially and with arms Russian action in Ukraine – which the Kremlin and Beijing have denied.

Relations with the Soviet Union

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa said he had been asked to mediate negotiations. His party, the African National Congress, is sympathetic to Moscow, for the Soviet Union’s support for the party during apartheid.

“Russia is our friend through and through,” said Lindiwe Zulu, South Africa’s minister for social development, who, according to the New York Times, studied in apartheid-era Moscow. “Let’s not criticize this relationship that we’ve always had.”

Without giving further details, the Russian Embassy in South Africa recently expressed its thanks on Twitter for the solidarity of the people of the African country.

“Dear followers, we have received many letters of solidarity from South Africans, both individuals and organisations. We appreciate your support and are glad that you have decided to stay with us at this time, while Russia , like 80 years ago, fight Nazism in Ukraine!

In the case of India, the history of relations with the Soviet Union also matters, according to Somdeep Sem, associate professor of international development studies at Roskilde University (Denmark).

The Communists signed a cooperation agreement with the Indians in 1971 and sided with them in disputes with Pakistan over Kashmir, a position Russia has maintained.

“In 1955, declaring his support for Indian sovereignty over Kashmir, Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev said, ‘We are so close that if you call us from the top of the mountains, we will appear at your side,'” Sem recalled in a article published on the Al Jazeera website.

Military and commercial issues also contribute to this partnership: according to Sem, Russian weapons today represent 60 to 85% of the armament of Indian forces, and India declared this week to be in talks with Moscow to import more oil from Russia – as the United States, United Kingdom and European Union announce that they will stop buying Russian product.

Dependence on China could unbalance the alliance

Ricardo Bruno Boff pointed out that, for military and territorial reasons, Russia is perhaps the second most powerful member of the BRICS, and therefore its isolation can cause the group to lose strength. However, even with the partnerships with Russia, the other countries individually should not be penalized, believes the professor – that, of course, if they do not collaborate in the war.

“I think there should be no overt retaliation, such as economic embargoes, sanctions, because there would be no justification. What other countries may suffer is a kind of isolation diplomatic, a withdrawal for example, no longer receiving visits, open criticism, in the press, but I do not believe that they should fear anything more concrete”, justified Boff.

Internally, however, the BRICS balance of power could shift, with Russia relying primarily on trade relations with China to mitigate losses from Western sanctions.

“With a more powerful China, it ends up being a Brics in which the ‘c’ acquires a larger size than the other letters,” Boff said. “China is already the most powerful country within the BRICS, the most important, I would say that without China the BRICS cannot move, and I believe that the imbalance [dentro da aliança] increases, yes, with the weakening of Russia.

Regarding Brazil, the professor does not believe that the country will suffer major consequences within the BRICS, as it was the only country in the group to vote against the Russians at the UN.

“I think it has to be like this: he condemns in humanitarian terms, in international law, but looking at his commercial interests. I believe that this Brazilian position, if it is well explained, well elaborated by Itamaraty, if Brazil does not adhere to the sanctions and the more concrete problems against Russia, it can be managed in a middle ground”, projected the teacher.

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