Russia Cannot Let India Hold Back Formal BRICS Expansion
BRICS is expanding – China said so
Throughout the recently concluded 10th annual BRICS summit in Johannesburg, Chinese President Xi Jinping made repeated references to the fact that the penultimate goal of the BRICS insofar as Beijing is concerned, centres around a rapid expansion of the group’s membership, its goals and its ability to unite the wider developing world far beyond the frontiers of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.
During his final speech at the summit, President Xi stated,
“We should understand, support, stay forever with and help each other, taking ‘BRICS Plus’ cooperation as an opportunity to build an open, inclusive, cooperative and win-win partnership and create a platform for deepening South-South cooperation”.
The message is loud and clear: BRICS will either expand de-facto (aka without Indian support) or it will expand de-jure (which would require Indian support). In either case, the most influential and wealthy BRICS nation, China has charted a clear course whereby the group will act as a facilitator of multi-continental developmental initiatives across several sectors.
India’s reluctance to making BRICS great again
By now, the BRICS would have likely already formally expanded beyond its five members, but because of India’s reticence to formally allow the ascension of a new states to the organisation, the development of BRICS+ – an informal but deeply significant participation of multiple nations in the group’s summits and institutions is already taking place as this cannot be vetoed by any single current BRICS member state.
India’s reasons for effectively prohibiting formal BRICS expansion are two-fold. First of all, India realises that just as Pakistan was admitted to the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation along with India in 2017, the natural course of formal BRICS expansion would almost certainly involve the participation of China’s key ally Pakistan, likely sooner rather than later. Secondly, because privately, India is aware that China’s One Belt–One Road holds far more attraction across the wider world than India’s smaller rival schemes, there is a feeling of grudging realism in New Delhi that most new members of an expanded BRICS would likely gravitate more towards Beijing’s proposals for international development than New Delhi’s. That being said, potential new members of BRICS would not necessarily see the Sino-Indian rivalry in such zero-sum terms and could realistically be open to partnerships with both China and India. Therefore, India’s fears of new BRICS members “siding” with China ought to be seen as part of a wider trend in contemporary Indian geopolitics whereby the leadership in New Delhi actually cuts itself off from positive economic opportunities across the developing world in a vainglorious attempt to “spite China”.
Turkey wants in
Turkey’s relationship with China continues to grow stronger, seemingly by the day. Chinese investment within Turkey as well as wide-reaching Sino-Turkish research and development partnerships are at an all time high, while the Turkish government has banned the expression of provocative anti-Chinese statements throughout the domestic media in a clear sign that Ankara prioritises New Silk Road connectivity projects with China over pandering to local activists who often become exorcised over typically western derived fake news regarding China’s Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region.
During the BRICS summit, Turkey’s President Erdogan coined the term “BRICST” with the ‘T’ standing for Turkey. The message from Turkey could not be clearer and what’s more is that the Turkish President stated,
“China is definitely for expansion [of BRICS to BRICST]. I believe we should welcome our inclusion in such groupings”.
During the same speech, Erdogan praised Turkey’s ever growing partnerships with both China and Russia. This crucially comes at a time when the White House has increased the intensity of recent anti-Turkish statements. The timing therefore of BRICS expanding to BRICST could not be more pressing as China seeks to draw Turkey into BRICS much to the approval of Erdogan while the US continues to push Turkey closer to its eastern partners.
Is India holding Russia hostage?
During his post-summit press conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin stated quite frankly that formal BRICS expansion is not on the agenda. Putin’s statement is clearly at odds with those of the Chinese President and this is not because of the state of Russia’s relations with China and Turkey which remain positive and continue to grow. Why then is BRICS expansion not on Vladimir Putin’s agenda when it is clearly on the agenda of his friend Xi Jinping?
An obvious process of elimination points to the reality that some policy makers in Russia appear to be walking on egg shells regarding BRICS expansion for fear of alienating India. While India was a longstanding Cold War era partner of the Soviet Union, today, India is moving closer to the United States at a rapid pace. While Russia correctly tries to convince India of the virtues of a more balanced approach, the realities on the ground have made it clear that when it comes to choosing between Russia and the US – India has already chosen the US for all intents and purposes.
When a nation like India whose army remains reliant on Russian hardware is less eager to stand up to the threat of American second-party CAATSA sanctions than NATO member Turkey, it is clear that the die has been cast when it comes to Russia convincing India to “go multipolar”.
Therefore, one can only surmise that rather than giving India a respectful reality check in conveying to New Delhi that the horse that is BRICS expansion has already bolted from the stable, Russia instead appears to be “virtue signalling” to India that Moscow will shield India from the possibility of rapid BRICS expansion.
Russia shoots itself in the foot
By pandering to India in the hopes of restoring an already partly lost partnership, Russia is offending China without intending to do so. While this will not effect the growing partnership between China and Russia, it does send a subtle signal to Beijing that at least some of Russia’s energy is directed towards preserving the feelings of a geopolitically obstinate nation at the expense of Russia’s own partnerships with China, Turkey and at least a dozen mroe nations from Africa and Asia.
While Russia was clearly trying to balance its Chinese partnership with what remains of its Indian partnership, in reality, nothing good can come from propping up a lost cause, not least because if Russia spoke to India with frankness rather than in a political correct manner, it just might serve to send New Delhi a wake-up call that most of its traditional Asian friends are now firmly signed up to One Belt–One Road and that there is no use in being the odd man out.
Russian policy markers should therefore join China in pushing for a formally expanded BRICS. Inviting Turkey is clearly the next logical step to such an expanded organisation. With the US alienating Turkey at a rapid race, Russia ought to become more aware of who its friends are in the 21st century. The hint is that they were not necessarily Russia’s friends in much of the 20th century.