Fyodor Lukyanov is Editor-in-Chief of Russia in Global Affairs, Chairman of the Presidium of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, and Research Director of the Valdai International Discussion Club.
Pavel Koshkin is Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Russia Direct and a contributing writer to Russia Beyond The Headlines
Resume: In the aftermath of the 2015 BRICS summit in Ufa, Fyodor Lukyanov, head of Russia’s Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, discusses how the BRICS are evolving in response to changing geopolitical conditions
The recent BRICS Summit, which took place in Ufa, Russia on July 8-9, attracted significant commentary in both the Russian and Western media about the expanding role that Russia and other BRICS nations – Brazil, India, China, and South Africa – hope to play in the world.
While it would be overstating matters to say that the BRICS are creating an alternative geopolitical architecture for the world – recent steps such as the launch of the New Development Bank and a reserve currency pool suggest that the BRICS are taking steps to assert greater control over future geopolitical developments.
With that in mind, Russia Direct interviewed Fyodor Lukyanov, an influential Russian foreign policy analyst and the head of the Council on Foreign and Defense Policy, for his take on the potential role that the BRICS might play in the world. As Lukyanov explains, the BRICS are fundamentally non-Western, but that does not imply that they are anti-Western.
Russia Direct: What are the most important results of the 2015 BRICS Summit and what are their implications, especially for the West?
Fyodor Lukyanov: There is so far no reason to speak about the implications from the summit: There will be no direct implications. The BRICS is a process – not even an organization, but rather a sort of union that is emerging, along with its gradual development.
Every year the summit brings together BRICS leaders who confirm their intentions and commitments to work together and add something new to the agenda, but it is not necessarily a specific decision.
Yet, there was indeed a big shift in the BRICS during one of the previous summits one year ago, when the leaders decided to create the Development Bank and currency reserve pool. And this became a big step forward, because for the first time BRICS moved in the direction of creating alternative international institutions. But the BRICS won’t make such moves every year, because it is a very gradual process. That’s why there will be only attempts to understand this situation in the near future.
Regarding the importance of the results and meetings, I would say that the influence of the BRICS is another sign of the gradual weakening of the West’s influence in the world. Particularly, such unhealthy attention that the BRICS attracts from the West indicates that the West is aware of its own weaknesses and is concerned that there will be alternative institutions.
But they are emerging much slower than they could be. Nevertheless, the Western countries properly understand this trend. And they are not satisfied with this trend.
RD: While the BRICS as a complex, self-developing bloc is gradually adjusting to the current geopolitical situation, do current conditions really favor its further development?
F.L.: Despite obvious differences between countries, the current state of affairs favors the BRICS, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that a new [geopolitical] architecture is emerging before our eyes. Again, this process is very slow and depends on different circumstances.
RD: You said that the West is becoming aware of its weakening influence in the world, but it doesn’t actually see the BRICS as a serious threat and doesn’t exaggerate the importance of the BRICS, as Russia does.
F.L.: So far, nobody is seriously defying the West. The country participants of the BRICS – except Russia, which is more impatient because of certain reasons – don’t want to produce an impression that they are coming together against the West, but again the problem is not whether they challenge the West now, but it rather stems from the fact that there is a gradual process of the West losing its monopoly in the world and it is accompanied by the same gradual process of emerging the counties which can theoretically fulfill the functions of [alternative institutions].
RD: How do you assess the possibility of other countries such Pakistan or Iran joining the BRICS?
F.L.: It is hardly likely because, first of all, the BRICS is not an organization in which it is possible to join and get a formal membership. It is a sort of club that mostly resembles the G7, a club that brings together countries that have common interests.
The BRICS is a collective “non-West,” not the “anti-West,” but non-Western nonetheless. Although officially there are no specific criteria, in fact, there is one criterion. It means that these countries have full sovereignty, which includes two components: The first one is the capability to conduct independent policy, I mean, non-involvement in any alliances, which impose certain restrictions; on the other hand, it is a sufficient economic potential in order to implement independent policy.
If we look at the situation from these two standpoints, there are few countries in the world that meet these relative criteria to join the BRICS countries. The rest of the countries either don’t have full sovereignty or if they have – like European countries – their sovereignty is restricted to a point by certain circumstances. So, it is very difficult to find a good candidate [to join the BRICS].
RD: What are the chances of the BRICS reforming the international financial system, from your point of view?
F.L.: If alternative institutions started emerging, I think they would develop further and increase their financial influence and presence. But it is not a matter of replacing current institutions (the World Bank or International Monetary Fund), it is the matter of an alternative and the creation of additional opportunities.
RD: The Kremlin hopes that the BRICS will be able to replace the West to boost its weakening economy, which is isolated from Europe, the United States and some other countries. Some even talk about the so-called technological alliance of the BRICS. Do you believe in it?
F.L.: Well, the idea of a technological alliance of the BRICS requires a very serous and large-scale work. As a motto, it works well, but in practice, it does not. Even though if it could be possible to implement in some fields, again, it will require very painstaking work, for example, the search for common markets that could bring together joint intellectual and technological efforts.
And it won’t be easy because, unlike Russia, which is restricted from the West’s technologies, the rest of the BRICS participants are not and they have a bigger space to maneuver, I mean, Russia will have to persuade them that it [the technological alliance] is really necessary for them.
RD: Who can be the leader in the BRICS, given the fact it brings together several big regional powers that might compete in Eurasia for geostrategic influence?
F.L.: The BRICS cannot have any leaders by definition. If a leader appears there, there will be no such organization. Each BRICS participant doesn’t find it acceptable to obey somebody else. So, there should be a kind of system where everybody has an opportunity for a free self-fulfillment, not regulated by somebody else.
RD: What about difference within the BRICS and different interests of its participants that might contradict each other? After all, the recent visit of the Brazilian president to the U.S. or the Chinese prime minister’s trip to Europe was interpreted by some as a weakness of the BRICS, showing that there is no ideal unity and both Brazil and China will prefer collaboration with the West.
F.L.: Again, nobody [from the BRICS countries] says that they will reject collaboration with the West. It is counter-productive to put the question in this way. And Russia, likewise, won’t do it despite the current situation. And we don’t say that we boycott the West, and none of the BRICS will reject the West as well, because they have very close ties with it.
RD: But can’t these close ties between some BRICS countries and the West lead to a split in the union, if, for example, there will be pressure from the West and, again, different interests, priorities?
F.L.: The Western countries naturally will exert pressure, because every BRICS participant is a big regional power that has a very important position, which the West takes into account. And it is normal for international relations.
Yes, it might weaken unity in the BRICS – or it might not. Actually, it is a matter of the capability to establish good relations. But, again, we should base this on the fact that these countries are located not in a vacuum, but in the real world. And if somebody in Russia sees the BRICS as a sort of anti-Western alliance, where Russia will be a leading power, it won’t happen. Nobody needs such a BRICS.
RD: Some economists express warnings that the BRICS won’t work and describe it as “a false hope” because of structural flaws in the economy, the asymmetry in living standards, growth, development and, most importantly, uneven distribution of the population. In this regard, what are the major challenges for the BRICS?
F.L.: The biggest challenge for every BRICS country is its own development, so everybody will care about acquiring new opportunities and if it is able to give these opportunities, it will develop quite well.