Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum
Issue 31.2020
2020.07.27 — 2020.08.02
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
RIC, BRICS and SCO: The Pandemic and Its Consequences (РИК, БРИКС и ШОС: пандемия и ее последствия) / India, July, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, covid-19

RIC, BRICS and SCO will have the unenviable task of managing bilateral divergences, setting the future agenda and retaining relevance for its constituents – all in the midst of contestation about structure of a future world order, writes Nivedita Kapoor, Junior Fellow with Observer Research Foundation's Strategic Studies Programme. The article is published as part of the Valdai Club's Think Tank project, continuing the collaboration between Valdai and Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi).

It was in 2001, with the signing of the Declaration on the Establishment of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), that the Eurasian intergovernmental organization established itself in the current form. India became an observer at SCO in 2005 and a full member in 2017. The year 2002 saw the first meeting of foreign ministers under the Russia-India-China (RIC) plurilateral, with annual meetings beginning from 2007. The idea of BRICS (originally BRIC) was floated by Jim O'Neill in 2001 but the first summit meeting took place only in 2009, with South Africa joining the group in 2010.

The timeline is of particular significance here, as these mechanisms emerged out of a specific set of domestic, regional and global conditions prevailing at the time, impacting the decision-making of Russia, India and China – all three of which are key players in the above-mentioned groupings. While the emerging powers were anticipating a future multipolar international system, they sought to maintain cordial relations with the US and other western powers. The US, while aware of the consequences on the world system of a rising power, had not announced its intention to contain China. The latter, on the other hand, was insisting on its peaceful rise through economic development of its people. This gave enough space to other powers to hedge their bets by following a diversified foreign policy instead of being forced into bloc mentality.

However, these trends have been under stress in recent years – characterized by increasing US-China rivalry, breakdown of Russia-West relations, backlash against globalization, rising inequalities and decline of multilateral cooperation. For at least the short term, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated these growing fault lines and revealed the extent of decline of liberal internationalism, reflected in the ineffectual response of international institutions to mount a worldwide joint response. These trends – in which Russia, India and China remain deeply entangled – will impact RIC, BRICS and SCO in terms of their role, agenda-formation and future trajectory in unique ways.


The RIC plurilateral had already been under the scanner as the foreign policies of member-states underwent significant developments in the past few years. The annual foreign ministers' meetings, while producing joint communiqués, did not lead to lessening of bilateral tensions resulting from the RIC engagement or advance 'institution building' or produce 'concrete cooperation programs.' The fractured Sino-Indian bilateral equation was identified as the major reason for this even as Russia balanced its relations with both its strategic partners.

There has also been a shift in the balance of power relations within the group. As India has become closer to the US in the Indo-Pacific, raising the importance of other plurilaterals like Japan-America-India and the Quad, China has pursued an increasingly aggressive policy in its neighbourhood. The rise of China has led scholars to classify it as the 'greatest challenge' facing India, with relations steadily getting 'adversarial' both in bilateral and regional realm.

In this context, the RIC has found it increasingly difficult to build on its aim of 'consultation and coordination on regional and global issues of mutual interest,' given that India and China have diverged on the content of these principles. As foreign minister S Jaishankar noted in the most recent RIC meeting held online that the main challenge remained not just of 'concepts and norms' but of 'practice.' While the importance of sustained dialogue between even adversarial powers remains relevant and some areas of coordination exist, RIC has broadly been more about 'goodwill' and less about 'strategic cooperation.' Moreover, contrasting views on shape of the future world order also put a strain on the plurilateral, constraining its ability to lead to genuine trilateral coordination.


Unlike RIC, BRICS has over the years succeeded in institutionalizing its relationship among members through several initiatives (New Development Bank, Contingency Reserve Arrangement, regular ministerial meetings of various sectors, working groups). This has leant more stability to the organization that is currently grappling with setting up its future agenda and where it will face the greatest complication. The growing Sino-Indian rivalry is expected to limit the 'range of issues' where members will be able to find consensus.

Even before the pandemic hit, questions around future agenda of the organization and the 'core strategy' were swirling around. Russia's desire for 'expanding foreign policy coordination' as its 2020 chair looks increasingly elusive; driven once again by the limitations Sino-Indian equation poses. BRICS is yet to establish itself as an 'independent variable' in global affairs given the wide divergences in policies of member states. The internal, bilateral contradictions combined with fears of 'great-power rivalry and strategic decoupling' between US and China will complicate foreign policies of BRICS member states – posing a challenge to organizational agenda formation and raising risk of an 'internal split'.

Due to the causes discussed above, the post-pandemic BRICS will find it harder to expand beyond economic and financial cooperation – especially in the ambitious aims found in its Brasilia declaration of reform of the multilateral system and cooperation in regional situations. While the utility of its current mechanisms can hardly be denied and cooperation with flexibility is a plus point in this time of flux, the very factors that were its advantages in the past now pose a challenge to the future development of BRICS; threatening to limit its voice in building a multipolar world order.

Shanghai Cooperation Organization

The SCO, which admitted India and Pakistan as full members in 2017, has traditionally focused on security issues like terrorism, separatism and extremism. India's desire to join the Eurasian organization was seen as a 'geopolitical hedge' by some as well as reflective of its desire for increased coordination with Central Asia. But the presence of Pakistan has raised questions about bilateral Indo-Pak issues complicating the organizational agenda and hindering its ability to 'reach consensus' on different issues. Another challenge, just like in the case of RIC and BRICS, will be the Sino-Indian rivalry.

Even though issues of Afghanistan, connectivity and counterterrorism make SCO an attractive body, concerns had been raised about diminishing clout of SCO in achieving results on the ground much before India joined the group. Russia and China too have had differences in SCO, with the former wanting to focus on military issues while the latter desires coordination on economic issues. Given that China did not find SCO willing to accommodate its agenda, it has pushed ahead with bilateral ties in the region on the back of OBOR. The Russian effort to expand the organization by backing Indian entry was aimed to lead to 'multipolar cooperation' and 'dilute Chinese domination.' However, the developments in Sino-Indian equation has since soured the achievement of this goal and introduced additional complexity to internal institutional dynamics. While the argument for advantages accrued from SCO cooperation in areas of common concern remains, the difficulty it has faced in coming up with concrete action plans or organizational work have brought it at a crossroad.


As noted above, Russia, India and China have seen rapid developments in their respective foreign policies in recent years. Whether it is the breakdown of Russia's relations with the West or closer Indo-US relations or an increasingly aggressive China – it has been a period of constant change in an unstable international system. This has also prompted an enunciation of different projects to deal with the uncertainties and expand their respective influence – from Greater Eurasia to Indo-Pacific to One Belt, One Road. In addition, the Sino-US and US-Russia rifts have been described as 'systemic' and expected to continue for some time.

It is these heightened bilateral rivalries and their resultant impact on strategic postures of emerging powers that has brought into stark relief the inherent limitations of the above-mentioned organizations – further exacerbated by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the world order. While this does not preclude the importance of multilateralism, the prevailing conditions have raised questions about the priority ascribed to varied institutions by member-countries. As the systemic changes intensify, it is expected that 'nature and scope' of these relations will vary – affecting the functioning of multilateral institutions as well.

As a result, RIC, BRICS and SCO will have the unenviable task of managing bilateral divergences, setting the future agenda and retaining relevance for its constituents – all in the midst of contestation about structure of a future world order. As established multilateral institutions face questions of legitimacy – having been found wanting in dealing with the wide-ranging impact of COVID-19 – the alternative offered by the institutions under discussion too portends disappointment.

There is little doubt that the trio of Moscow, New Delhi and Beijing will play a role in shaping a future world order. However, the organizations in which they play central roles will face numerous challenges, as discussed above, in their efforts to achieve a similar goal. While the ongoing uncertainty is only a by-product of the churn underway in the global system, the future looks more complicated than ever for RIC, BRICS and SCO.

BRICS nations call for joint efforts to improve environment (Страны БРИКС призывают к совместным усилиям по улучшению окружающей среды) / India, August, 2020
Keywords: ecology, top_level_meeting, cooperation

India could provide the platform wherein all best practices in environmental management in BRICS countries could be showcased, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar said during the sixth BRICS environment ministers' meet that called for joint efforts to improve the environment and promote circular economy.

'Tech partnership key pillar'

India believes that equity, common but differentiated responsibilities, finance and technology partnerships are key pillars towards attainment of global goals of climate change mitigation and adaptation

Environment ministers of the five BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) participated in the 6th BRICS environment ministers' meeting via video-conferencing under the presidency of Russia.

Representing India, Javadekar said, "India attaches great importance to the grouping." He also elaborated on the efforts made by India in areas related to sustainable urban management, tackling marine litter, air pollution and cleaning of rivers, according to a statement released today.

Javadekar said the aspiration of BRICS countries were similar and called for sharing of best practices among the BRICS nations towards attainment of sustainable development goals.

He also stressed the need to implement various initiatives under the BRICS and for speedy implementation of the BRICS MoU. He offered that India could provide the platform wherein all best practices in environmental management in BRICS countries could be showcased, the official statement added.

Highlighting the efforts made by India in controlling air pollution, Javadekar said in 2015 India launched the air quality index monitoring in 10 cities. Today it had been extended to 122 cities. He added that in 2019 India launched the national clean air programme (NCAP), the goal of which is to reduce particulate pollution by 20-30 per cent relative to 2017 levels by 2024.
Non-Western Multilateralism: BRICS and the SCO in the Post-COVID World (Незападная многосторонность: БРИКС и ШОС в мире пост-COVID) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, covid-19
Author: Dmitriy Suslov

It is advisable for the SCO to be positioned as a leading international organisation and the foundation of a Greater Eurasia regional international order, given that Eurasia is still the only region of the world developing without a hegemon, either external or internal, writes Dmitry Suslov, Deputy Director at the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies, National Research University Higher School of Economics, Moscow. The article is published as part of the Valdai Club's Think Tank project, continuing the collaboration between Valdai and Observer Research Foundation (New Delhi).

The COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically accelerated many international processes and aggravated antagonisms. First and foremost, the so-called "liberal international order," which primarily relied on the power and financial and economic superiority of the United States, has continued to lose strength. This order has never been universal and in recent years has faced a growing resistance both from without – from the outside forces that were unwilling to accept America's global leadership – and from within, from the part of US society that did not benefit from globalisation and did not subscribe to the United States' role as a "benevolent hegemon" and chief creator of global public welfare.

This process has dramatically accelerated amid the pandemic. The United States has kept completely away from organising cooperation against this year's main transnational threat. More than that, it started playing havoc with this cooperation (by withdrawing from the WHO, for example) and has often acted contrary to the best interests of its closest allies and partners. The United States has boosted pressure on allies, coercing them into opposition to Russia and China and even introducing sanctions against those unwilling to renounce cooperation with Moscow and Beijing (on Nord Stream 2, for example).

Similarly, the pandemic has become a catalyst for a US-China standoff, which has escalated into a full-blown confrontation in 2020. The confrontation will continue regardless of the outcome of the US presidential election in November and will remain central to the US foreign policy and a key factor in relations with allies for years to come. There is a bipartisan consensus on this point, and should Biden win in November, the Republicans will watch his policy towards Beijing as closely and jealously as the Democrats are watching Trump's policy with regard to Moscow today. Apart from being involved in the political, military-political, information and ideological confrontation, the US and China have geared up their economic disengagement, a gradual and slow, if steady, minimisation of their economic relations and interdependence. This has received the support of a considerable part of the US business community.

But a stronger US-China confrontation has failed to lead to the slackening of US-Russia confrontation. Within the next few years, Washington will go on with its policy of two-pronged containment of Beijing and Moscow, no matter who wins the presidential election in the United States. For its discontinuation, there are no domestic political conditions in the United States; nor is there a realisation by the US establishment that Russia will not begin to regard China as a threat in the foreseeable future and will not realign itself with the West on that account. Moreover, if Biden wins, the confrontation with Russia and China may even be intensified. The US will step up its criticism of them over values and its coordination with allies in Europe and Asia. The sanctions policy towards Russia and China will continue as well, including to the detriment of US allies' interests.

The weakening of the liberal world order, the United States' intensified confrontation with China and Russia, as well as the pandemic as a whole, which is being dealt with primarily at the national level and has aggravated internal differences in many countries, have eroded the overall multilateralism of international politics. An increasing number of countries tend to prefer unilateral steps, thereby boosting the chaos and risk of conflict in the international environment as a whole. The same trends have lead to a dramatic weakening of global governance and the spiralling pandemic is the best illustration of this point. Other global and transnational problems are not addressed either, or if they are, the effort is insufficient. Such issues include climate change, environmental degradation, international terrorism, and others. The United States' confrontation with China and Russia and the general tendency towards self-interest in politics in many countries have actually paralysed effective cooperation in the fight against common challenges. An indicative fact is the paralysis or inefficiency of once key global governance tools, such as the G20 and G7.

At the same time, the trend of increasing one-sidedness in the behavior of states has also a "bright side" in that there is a greater demand for state sovereignty and independence, with the world growing more chaotic and less governable.

Yet another trend that has been accelerated by the pandemic is the greater vigor and self-assertiveness in China's foreign policy. The PRC is clearly demonstrating its qualities as a leader and a great power. Deng Xiaoping's tradition of modesty and concealment of China's might on the international arena is a thing of the past. The new line of behaviour is, in all evidence, a long-term affair and stems from both the system-wide (confrontation with the United States, adaptation to the role of a great power) and domestic (a surge of nationalism) factors. Among other things, this line has manifested itself in a tougher approach to certain neighbours, resulting indirectly in a recent flare-up of the Chinese-Indian border conflict and the failure of yet another PRC-India attempt to consolidate partner relations. Rivalry is still the prevailing aspect of the two countries' bilateral relations. This is certainly having a negative impact on the viability of BRICS and the SCO.

China's successes in combating COVID-19 at home (particularly against the background of unsuccessful efforts in other countries), the aid it rendered to others (again, against the background of the US failure to provide the same kind of aid), greater assertiveness of its foreign policy and the confrontational policies conducted by the United States have combined to accelerate the emergence of a world where two power centres – the United States and China – are much stronger than all the others.

The emerging world is that of two superpowers locked in a system-wide conflict with each other. This does not mean that we will see bipolarity like the one that existed in the latter half of the 20th century. There is no China-controlled bloc, nor is it likely to be formed. The US bloc is growing weaker and getting transformed into something more heterogeneous, with ever more countries unwilling to take sides or make the either-or choice.

Nevertheless, the rest, including Russia, should adapt to the new environment and rethink their positioning in a two-superpower world, especially as the United States (and later possibly China) will bring pressure to bear on New Delhi and Moscow, compelling them to side with one of them in the context of the US-China confrontation.

Finally, the COVID-19 pandemic has triggered a new profound global economic crisis. Emerging from it will be a protracted affair, given the emasculation of global governance, increased self-interest in the policies of many countries, and the gradual economic disengagement of the United States and China. This will deal a painful blow to all world economic centres, including the United States and China, which are already facing massive internal problems. The pressure of these problems on US and PRC governments will only grow within the next few years, something that will make their foreign policies even more impulsive.

All these trends are having a mixed impact on BRICS and the SCO. Currently, this influence is certainly negative, but it is also increasing their robustness, importance and long-term potential. Both associations tend to focus on common interests rather than geopolitical antagonisms and differences and have amassed much experience in this sense. And yet some of the above tendencies have introduced a certain tension in BRICS and SCO operations. In the first place, this has to do with the aggravated China-India conflict. But the same circumstance is simultaneously a sign of robustness and maturity, because both groups remain viable despite the direct confrontation between the two countries. The greater Chinese foreign policy assertiveness has also proved a robustness test for the SCO. For now, it can be said that it has stood the test.

Both groups will also withstand the possible increase in US pressure on India and Brazil to the extent of the United States' increasingly intense confrontation with China. First, New Delhi is unlikely to renounce its strategic independence and become a component of the US China containment coalition. Second, the election of Jair Bolsonaro as president of Brazil was also a stress test of sorts and it was passed with flying colours. Despite Bolsonaro's China baiting during the election campaign and his desire to draw closer to the United States, his country did not withdraw from BRICS and continues what is on the whole constructive cooperation within the Five.

Finally, a dialogue and cooperation on combating COVID-19 have been re-established within BRICS after a certain pause caused by the initial shock from the pandemic and the natural desire to launch a war on it at the national level. Unlike the G7, the BRICS countries are not attempting to oppose each other directly in this matter, nor do they seek to artificially politicise it. Cooperation within BRICS becomes particularly important in a situation where the pandemic has assumed a menacing scale in Brazil.

Strategically, the demand for BRICS and the SCO in the post-COVID world and their importance for Russian and Indian foreign policies will only grow. Given the withering away of the former international order and the general weakening of multilateralism, these associations will play an increasingly important role as a bulwark of a new post-Western and polycentric world order, where multilateralism and global governance will no longer be associated with the Western institutions alone. As of today, BRICS and the SCO are the most successful and influential models of non-Western multilateralism, with non-Western power centres cooperating on common issues and coordinating their positions on crucial international problems in the absence of a clearly defined hegemon. Beijing's ability or desire to play the hegemon within these institutions is nil.

Therefore, it makes sense to regard BRICS as a full-fledged institution of global governance designed to fill the vacuum of cooperation on transnational challenges at the global level. For this to be so, BRICS should not only encourage Russia, China, India, Brazil and South Africa to cooperate among themselves but also, increasingly, induce the Five to dialogue about the world as a whole. It should come up with its own proposals on transnational problems, such as improvements in the global environmental situation, climate change, pandemics, international terrorism and international organised crime, international information security, and others. New rules and regimes should be devised in their regard and promoted at the global level. It is BRICS that could propose, for example, a fairer regime to fight climate change and environmental degradation, under which payments for environmental damage should come not only from producers but also from consumers of "dirty" products, the majority of whom are concentrated in developed countries. In addition, the Five could declare that they are stepping up support for the WHO and even increase their contributions to it. They could also announce measures to prevent possible future pandemics and make responses to them more effective.

To fill the vacuum of global governance and become a pillar of the new polycentric world order, BRICS must under no circumstances get involved in the US-China confrontation or pose as an antithesis to the G7 and Western institutions as a whole. Insofar as some BRICS members are opponents and others partners of the United States, the likelihood of such involvement is negligible, especially since it would immediately paralyse the Five. By staying above the new global fray and suggesting new rules and regimes for counteracting transnational challenges, BRICS will help to moderate the fray and prevent the emergence of new Cold War blocs and the general polarisation into "USA+" and "China+".

It is important to understand in this context that a limited number of great powers are no longer able to govern the world effectively. This is realised by a growing number of regional actors that seek to play an active and independent role in global affairs rather than follow in the wake of this or that global power. Therefore, BRICS must become a stronger player, with dialogue formats with third countries – outreach and BRICS+ – institutionalised. The latter should be aimed at collaborating closely with non-Western states that are not BRICS members, supporting the idea of a fairer polycentric world order and contributing to resolving transnational problems.

It is advisable for the SCO to be positioned as a leading international organisation and the foundation of a Greater Eurasia regional international order, given that Eurasia is still the only region of the world developing without a hegemon, either external and internal.

In fact, the SCO's existence with Russia and India as members both weakens US influence and presence in the region and rules out a regional hegemony of China.

The SCO should persevere its policy of fighting separatism, extremism and terrorism, especially given that the gravity of these challenges will only grow against the background of expanding international conflicts, US confrontational policies, and the global economic crisis. It is worthwhile to add to this list the fight against pandemics and environmental degradation at the regional level. The interconnection of these two threats is obvious and they are of immediate interest for all SCO members.

Finally, the SCO should prioritise stabilisation in Afghanistan for years to come. It is clear that the United States and NATO have failed in their attempts to stabilise that country. It is also clear that Washington, no matter who wins the presidential contest in November, will seek to scale down its operations and reduce its presence to a geopolitical minimum. It is the regional countries, each of which is either a member or observer of the SCO, that should play the principal role in ensuring stability, political settlement and development in Afghanistan.

Yet another reason why BRICS and the SCO will have growing importance for Russia and India in the coming years is the need for them to adapt to China's gradual emergence as the second superpower and carry out its "mild taming." The wider the gap between China and other power centres aside from the United States in terms of total power potential and the more intense the US-China confrontation, the more important it will be for Russia and India to pursue a well-balanced foreign policy, maintain close partnerships with other power centres, and strengthen the multilateral institutions involving themselves and China. There are no better formats for that than BRICS and the SCO. Their strengthening will make it possible not only to weaken the threat of a new global split into opposing blocs but also to reduce the risk of the PRC implementing a hegemonic policy. China's might will be tamed as it gets enveloped in multilateral formats and regimes similarly to the way German might is tamed by EU institutions.

BRICS and the SCO are a graphic embodiment of Russian and Indian equidistant partnerships with other non-Western power centres, which is fundamental for the two countries' positioning as independent great powers refraining from joining the US-China confrontation as junior partners of either superpower.

Finally, the new economic crisis, the economic "disengagement" of the United States and China, and America's long-term policy of double-pronged containment of China and Russia are boosting the importance of closer BRICS cooperation on global economic governance. Specifically, it would do well to reduce its dependence on US-controlled economic institutions and tools. Gaining in significance is the elimination of the US dollar as the commercial payable and receivable in deals that BRICS countries have with each other and third countries (this is yet another task for BRICS+) and the development of mechanisms reducing the negative impact of US sanctions on economic relations within BRICS. The SCO would also do well to adopt similar tools, thus filling its economic agenda.
Covid-19 in Russia: Mishandling has led to popular protests, but Putin remains strong (Covid-19 в России: неправильное обращение привело к массовым протестам, но Путин остается сильным) / South Africa, August, 2020
Keywords: covid-19, expert_opinion
South Africa

This is the second in a six-part series that will look at how the Covid-19 pandemic is playing out in the BRICS countries. Tomorrow: South Africa.

Read the first instalment here

The epidemic reached Russia later than many other European countries. Yet by mid-May Russia had the second-highest number of confirmed cases worldwide, behind the United States, before it was overtaken by Brazil. The official mortality rate in those two countries has been over four times higher than Russia's, but that is almost certainly due to the fact that the Russian authorities have counted only patients who demonstrably died from Covid-19 and used generic diagnoses such as "atypical pneumonia" to keep numbers low.

A tradition of sweeping problems under the rug and skirting accountability has meant that government measures, while sometimes resolute, have been heavy-handed and non-transparent. This, in turn, has fuelled popular protest against these measures. All of this comes against the background of long-term structural problems.

Covid-19 and Russia's medical infrastructure

In the medical system, much investment in recent years has been channelled into flagship hi-tech facilities in the big cities. Conversely, many hospitals in peripheral areas have been closed. Cramped conditions, poor hygiene and a lack of basic supplies are not uncommon in poorer regions, creating risks for both patients and medical staff. The centralised nature of the system created bottlenecks in the response to the epidemic: for many weeks, samples from the entire country could only be processed at a single lab in Novosibirsk.

With a strong tradition of wartime medicine, Russia's medical system has often been best when in crisis mode – at the cost of sacrificing medical workers. Staff, including commandeered medical students, have been forced to test and treat patients without themselves being tested or given proper protection. Officials deny that Covid-19 has led to a high mortality rate among doctors, but the Doctors' Alliance, a trade union created in 2018, mentions hundreds of medics dead as a result of the epidemic in its online map, and so do various offline memorials. As in other highly unequal countries, wealthy donors have sometimes stepped in to provide high-profile targeted help to specific hospitals or regions.

Vulnerable population groups

Most Russians were affected by the health and economic effects of the pandemic, coming on the heels of several years of falling real incomes and dwindling savings. Similarly to other countries, however, those dependent on social support have been especially vulnerable. These include low-income households; elderly, disabled, or homeless people; problematic substance users; those at risk of domestic violence; LGBT individuals; those recently released from detention; and those with health conditions requiring medication made scarce by the pandemic.

The Russian welfare system is application-based rather than proactive. Many of these people therefore fall through the cracks. Some do not fit the state's rigid categories. Others have never learnt to navigate the system. Many lack the required documentation, such as official registration at their place of residence for foreign or internal migrants or tax documents for those employed in the grey economy.

Users posting "traffic alerts" in Moscow to criticize the government's handling of the pandemic. Non-state support associations have often tried to fill the gaps, and NGOs have submitted recommendations to the government on supporting vulnerable population groups through the pandemic. However, despite a surge in volunteering and crowdsourced aid over the past decade, the Soviet legacy means that such associations typically remain small and semi-professionalised rather than community-based. They are therefore limited in influence and reach, especially outside the wealthier centres. The main exceptions to this rule can be found in rural parts of the North Caucasus that have retained elements of a traditional social structure.

In addition, more than half a million people live in group care facilities of various kinds, including orphanages, old-age homes and in stationary hospital or psychiatric care. Many of these institutions are in desolate condition, and their directors unable to ensure quarantine measures or unwilling to report infections for fear of stigma. All of this is in addition to other population groups living in communal arrangements, including many in Russia's million-strong army, out-of-town university students in dormitories, or monks and nuns in Orthodox monasteries.

Prisons have become a particular hot spot. Russia's prison population has been almost halved in recent years, due mostly to a rise in alternative sanctions as well as suspended and deferred sentences. Russia has dropped from third to 23d place by incarceration rate internationally, but it still has the world's fourth-largest number of prisoners in absolute terms, at just under 600,000 people held in about 1,000 facilities across the country.

Prisoners have long been particularly vulnerable to infectious diseases. Thus, despite considerable advances, Russia is still among the 20 countries with the highest incidence of tuberculosis, and prisoners are especially affected. Annual inmate turnover rates of close to 50% help spread infections both inside prisons and among the larger population. Unlike other countries, Russia did not release prisoners early in response to Covid-19 despite a tradition of proclaiming Victory Day amnesties on 9 May. Instead, prisons have been isolated, shutting out visitors and packages, including medicines.

Reliable information has been difficult to come by for the same reason, but it appears that prison directors have hardly introduced any serious testing, hygiene, or distancing measures for fear of their institutions being branded as corona hot spots. At the same time, 120 prisons have been tasked with sewing masks.

Seasonal labour migration has further contributed to the spread of the infection. Unskilled workers arriving from post-Soviet countries such as Tajikistan to face exploitation and discrimination are a well-known phenomenon. In addition, however, several million Russian citizens regularly rotate through shifts outside their home regions for months at a time, especially in the extractive industries, construction and small-scale trade. They typically stay in crowded dormitories, lack basic protection of their labour rights, and risk spreading infections when returning home.

The North Caucasus republic of Dagestan can serve to illustrate many of these processes. One of Russia's poorest regions, it also became one of the main infection hubs by April. Local traders or workers had brought in the virus when returning from other regions to attend large events such as weddings. Traditions such as high community turnout at funerals contributed to spreading the infection, as did carelessness due to conspiracy theories and ineffective folk remedies such as berry juice.

The poor medical infrastructure and lack of basic equipment were exacerbated by officials' fear that honesty about outbreaks would be used to discredit their institutions and the whole republic. Conversely, where the effects of the epidemic were mitigated, this was often due to action by kinship networks, local village elders, or wealthy politicians or businessmen with ties to local communities.

Popular protest

Western observers often take protest in Russia seriously only when it is openly directed against President Vladimir Putin and appears to hold a promise of regime change, so much attention has focused on the fact that the president's ratings in surveys fell to historic lows in April (59% "approval," 27% "trust"). Yet such polls are a notoriously poor guide to actual behaviour, and this view glosses over the wide variety of protest forms, causes and targets. All of this has been starkly in evidence during the pandemic.

Much protest happened exclusively online. In late April, a live-stream titled "For Life" featured well-known figures criticising government policies from their homes, replicating in an online format the traditional format of liberal anti-Putin opposition rallies. The blogger and opposition figurehead Alexey Navalny collected more than a million signatures in support of his five-point plan of handing out cash and scrapping taxes and utilities payments to mitigate the crisis. As part of a campaign that started out in Rostov-on-Don before spreading to other cities, people started using the crowdsourced traffic alert function of the most popular satellite navigation software to flood the system with comments critical of government policies.

Other events have resembled the single-issue street gatherings that are more characteristic of labour protest in smaller towns. In late April, seasonal workers at the Chayanda oil and gas field in Yakutia staged a mass protest against their cramped living conditions and lack of testing or protective measures. The previous week had seen large rallies against self-isolation measures by small-scale traders in Vladikavkaz, the capital of North Ossetia in the North Caucasus.

Responses to these protests have followed the traditional dynamic of co-option and repression. The online campaigns were largely ignored or (in the case of the map-based campaigns) censored by platform administrators. The protest at the commercially important oil field of Chayanda led operator Gazprom to provide tests and protective gear, unlike in many other rotation villages that have had similar problems. The protests in Vladikavkaz were violently dispersed and almost universally condemned by local social and intellectual elites across the political spectrum, even though some Moscow opposition figures tried to co-opt them as signs of discontent with the Putin regime.

Political ramifications

Overall, the Covid-19 pandemic has put a massive strain on Russia's infrastructure and heightened inter-regional discrepancies. However, both government responses and popular protests have largely followed traditional patterns, and though self-organised initiatives that emerged before the crisis have continued through the epidemic, it is unlikely that Russia's political system or social structure will emerge from the crisis transformed.

The pandemic did extend the already large discrepancies between regions in terms of income and infrastructure. These differences were further widened when President Putin deferred to the previously reined in regional governors to handle the pandemic. However, this does not appear to have noticeably weakened his position.

Before the start of the pandemic, he had introduced constitutional amendments designed to secure his hold on power for life and cement conservative and isolationist values. These changes were officially approved in a (demonstrably rigged) referendum held over one week in June and July. Unlike neighbouring Belarus, where a near-total lack of quarantine measures may have inadvertently facilitated unexpectedly active pre-election protests, Russia has not seen anything like the massive protest wave that followed the falsified elections of 2011 and 2012. DM/MC

Mischa Gabowitsch is a senior researcher at the Einstein Forum in Potsdam (Germany) and the author of Protest in Putin's Russia.

This article is the second in a collection that comes out of a collaborative project comparing neoliberal politics and social movement responses in the BRICS countries, generously supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (NIHSS) in South Africa. It is republished with permission from The Wire, an independent online publication in India, and the original can be found here.

The Moment of Truth for BRICS: Challenges, Opportunities And the Way Forward (Момент истины для БРИКС: вызовы, возможности и путь вперед) / South Africa, July, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion
South Africa
Author: Kester Kenn Klomegah

As already known, BRICS is an association of five major emerging economies: Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa. South Africa joined the association in 2010. The BRICS has a significant influence on regional affairs and very active on the global stage. All of them are members of the G20. While the group has received both praise and criticism from different corners of the world, BRICS is steadily working towards realizing its set goals, bilateral relations among them are conducted on the basis of non-interference, equality and mutual benefits.

In this exclusive interview, Dr Byelongo Elisee Isheloke, who is currently a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cape Town in South Africa and has scholarly researched some aspects of BRICS for the past ten years, spoke with Kester Kenn Klomegah about his observations, the existing challenges, opportunities and the future perspectives of BRICS. Here are the interview excerpts;

South Africa joined BRICS in 2010, a decade ago, and so how do you assess South Africa in BRICS these years? What are its greatest contributions to the development of the group?

I would say South Africa is strongly committed to its engagement in the BRICS. It has hosted two of its summits. As an active member, it has what it takes to deliver despite the internal economic crises in South Africa. I think over the years, South Africa grew in confidence within the partnership, particularly when the first BRICS summit took place in Durban South Africa.

In the Durban 2013 BRICS summit, African presidents were invited to join leaders of BRICS and the theme evolved around Africa. In this context, South Africa regained its muscles as a BRICS member. South Africa therefore represents Africa well in the BRICS, in a way, and I think the African countries should support it. The only thing I think people want is to be more involved. While the BRICS started as a partnership of political nature, now that it has embraced economic development, the voice of the people must be heard.

The major problem of South Africa is that it is not robust economically compared to its BRICS counterparts, and its economy has been performing badly since the 2008/2009 world's economic crisis. It has been a zero growth economy ever since. If any growth, then it has been below 1%. South Africa has struggled to stabilize its economy during the past few years, and now the COVID-19 has exacerbated this but it is common to many countries around the world.

In your previous discussion, you talk about a transition from politics to economy. How do you see BRICS influence on international issues, its collective position on the global arena?

BRICS did not transit from politics to economy as such but put emphasis on economic projects. BRICS leaders still talk global politics while experts guide the leaders on foreign policy issues. For me, I think it is a very good approach going forward. BRICS must deliver on capital-intensive infrastructure development, and the funding from the New Development Bank (BRICS) is critical in this regard. With good policies in place, this will help the SADC region and the rest of Africa. It is great that the branch of this bank operates from Johannesburg in South Africa.

Furthermore, I must say that BRICS influence on international scale is dented by minor problems in the organization. For example, the diplomatic conflict between India and China, the fact that both Russia and China wants to be in a position of favor with the United States on diplomatic ground, this is not helping its influence globally. I think BRICS must clean its home, or clean before its door, if it wants to be the balancing power in international affairs. The other problem is the capital issue. At the moment, the BRICS do not have the muscles to outcompete the Bretton Wood Institutions, the World Bank and IMF. More investment, more capital is needed in the BRICS Bank.

In the past, there was the lack of synergy in diplomatic position as far as the BRICS is concerned. In the UN Security Council, for instance, the BRICS have to consult in order to accommodate views on issues of global importance. We know that South Africa is a member of the SADC and there is the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), another SADC country, which has a plethora of problems of security and economic nature. I think that any assistance from such an organization (BRICS) would be appreciated. Quite recently, more than 200 civilians known as the Bembe people were massacred in the eastern DRC by Ngumino and Twagineho militias. These militias are of foreign origin to the DRC. This news is not broadcasted in South Africa, if the BRICS could invest more in peace-keeping mission,maybe help the current government, perhaps it could help the failing Monusco, a UN mission in the DRC. It is such engagement that can make the BRICS shine internationally. They need a collective position on global issues. This is just one example.

In relation to economy and trade, what are your arguments about collaboration among BRICS? Do you also see China and India racing for global dominance, and Russia steadily raising its business profile on global stage?

With regard to this question, this is what I have to say. In fact, trade protectionism is only good temporarily and it works only in the short run. It is not sustainable as a policy in the long term. We know in the 17th century it was promoted in European countries but there was a time when the Laissez-faire ideology took precedence on economic isolationism. We also know that a couple of BRICS countries have a communist background (Russia and China). What I can say is that China opened up its economy to trade, and for more than 30 years, it manage to build a robust economy (now considered the 2nd largest after the United States) with potential prospects of outperforming the United States. I think we can learn from the Chinese economic success.

The COVID-19 situation may help change the forecasts but free trade has proven over the years to be highly supportive to the economy of nations. This does not mean one needs "to throw away the baby with the water" when it comes to the gain obtained during the socialist approach to economic development. The BRICS countries should find a way of striking a balance between the two economic systems. But frankly speaking, an open economy leaning more towards free trade is what I would recommend for an emerging economy. Now even countries where the economy is freer like South Africa and India, we see that the major hindrance is corruption and bad governance in certain instances. If the BRICS can address these obstacles or hurdles, they will have a better chance of winning. In China, human rights abuses shouldn't be covered up. Doing-Business with countries where dictatorship and abuses are evident should it be alright.

In addition, there will be areas where BRICS will compete, and this is healthy to any economy, but there must be more focus on what BRICS can do together to address abject poverty, growing unemployment and human rights abuses. China and India need to talk more to address their differences. The future of BRICS depends, to some considerable extent, on their good relations. The race for dominance if military is dangerous. I think they need to talk as friends and partners. The rest of the BRICS should mediate in this regard.

Many experts still question the role of BRICS members in Africa. It is important here to recall that Russia was involved in helping African countries during their struggle for independence and that was the Cold War. It lost its influence after the split of the USSR. Currently Russia's foreign policy largely seeks to regain what it lost to the United States and China and other foreign players in Africa. But for our Russian partners, Africa needs sustainable development, and not military weapons and equipment. Africa is looking for foreign players to invest in infrastructure and play large part economically.

In your post-doctoral research on BRICS, and in your article to The Conversation, you mentioned what South Africa can offer or shared with other members. Is it possible to restate explicitly the kind of "beneficiation" here?

I would make known, first, that as a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Cape Town, my academic investigation deals with the impact of and the challenges towards mineral beneficiation policy interventions in the SADC region. This has some importance for foreign players looking opportunities to invest in mineral resources in the SADC.

Having said the above, I am more than prepared to embark on a project that will help BRICS to understand the effects of Brics partnership on mineral beneficiation in South Africa and within the Southern African Development Community. In this connection, I think South Africa has a lot to offer to the BRICS. There must also be a consensus with other African countries. Understandably, South Africa can be an investment gateway to Africa. As the presiding head of the African Union, South Africa represents the interests of the AU in BRICS.

On beneficiation, South Africa has a tremendous experience on nuclear power that, if used for energy, could help the beneficiation industry in the country. One needs to be cautious of deviations in that regard, not that I am suggesting South Africa would deviate, but care needs to be observed by all member countries on that issue. As a pacifist, I would advise that African countries look at alternative, renewable energy sources. A gradual approach to beneficiation and a dialogue between trade partners will take the BRICS partnership to another level as far as South Africa is concerned in the BRICS.

How do you assess the current coronavirus spread and its impact, especially among BRICS, (Brazil, India, Russia and South Africa) and allegedly (yet to be proved) virus originated from China (BRICS member)?

The BRICS are hit by the COVID-19 crisis just like any other country. As we know, the COVID-19 started in Wuhan, China, and then spread in no time to all the continents. It is however important to note that China closed its borders and cooperated with the World Health Organization (WHO) to alert other countries. On the other hand, in Africa, we saw China helping the African Union (AU) with PPEs and other test equipment. This should be appreciated.

Whether the alert came late or not, I do not have any means to determine that. Why would China want to do that? Instead of pointing fingers to others, I think it is time the world learns from the threat we face together as humans and find a common ground to halt (stop) the spread of COVID-19. It should be an opportunity to re-engineer our health facilities and capabilities for a better tomorrow for all. Personally, I would call for cooperation between BRICS and non-BRICS countries (the United States and Europe for example to get involved). Failing to do that will be a recipe for more complications.

What do you think of BRICS collaborating on COVID-19 vaccine? Do you see "cooperation or competition" among its members (China, India and Russia) racing for global market with the vaccine?

Interestingly, I see both cooperation and competition.But I think we need more cooperation and sharing of the information. The BRICS must remember what they owe the world. Cooperation should be on all aspects of life. We hear stories of people of color being ill-treated in China for example. I think the authorities should investigate that and take appropriate actions to care for others with dignity.

In South Africa as well, the refugee community was almost neglected in the management of the COVID-19. I am glad the government decided to do something about it. BRICS scientists, as well, need collaboration to come up successfully with a solution or vaccine. Efforts by other scientists need to be taken into account. And as regards Africa, an African solution to Africa's problem approach should not be neglected or relegated to the backyard. BRICS are partners, they can help each other but they should not replace own efforts towards security and safety. Vaccine or solutions to the pandemic should not be profit-orientated. In Africa, we believe in Ubuntu. I think our BRICS leaders will not do such a mistake. I am highly optimistic on that.

Generally, what would you consider as the key challenges amid the coronavirus pandemic that has shattered the economy, and how do you see the future of BRICS?

The pandemic has, indeed taken a heavy toll on the global economy. As reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), Brazil, India, Russia, China, and of course, South Africa have high infections after the United States. The key challenges during the COVID-19 era are: Unpreparedness of the BRICS countries. It came as a surprise and BRICS were caught pants down in most instances. We should view the COVID-19 as an opportunity for better planning, re-engineering of our health facilities and capabilities for prevention.

Lack of financial resources. The poor countries in a dire situation. Most countries had no financial muscles to acquire respirators and PPEs. Russia and China managed to build specialized hospitals within a short time to contain the situation. This is an area where the BRICS Development Bank could make the stark difference if steered in the right direction.

Insufficient coordination. As for the case of South Africa, it is good that the government took the scientific approach in managing the situation. Coordination with public-private partnership could enhance the ability of the state apparatus to serve everybody regardless of their origin. There is still time to ensure that poor including refugees and asylum seekers are humanly served. We cannot be selective in enforcing human rights. Medical assistance, in time of coronavirus, be regarded as basic human right for all. A better coordination will therefore help not only South Africa, but all the countries.

Last but not the least, a holistic approach to fighting the pandemic should be promoted. A human being is not just a body, but it is also a spirit. While scientists and decision makers propose solutions, it must be done in conjunction with means that uplift the spirit as well. Faith based organizations should equally have a role to play to help the government and to provide interventions of psychological and spiritual nature. A healthy body in a healthy spirit is what we need. Otherwise, any solution will be half-baked and unsustainable. All the stakeholders must work together. This is not only for South Africa or for the BRICS, but it is also for the entire world. There are a lot of negative news on TV and Radio channels about the corona. It is time the media grasps the opportunity to serve humanity by focusing on giving hope rather than destroying hope. A balance needs to be set in this regard as well. Media have to exhibit a more constructive role for a better world.

BRICS and Covid-19: Rising powers in a time of pandemic (БРИКС и Covid-19: растущие силы во время пандемии) / South Africa, July, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, covid-19
South Africa

Four of the five countries worst affected by Covid-19 are from the BRICS grouping – Brazil, Russia, India and South Africa – while China is where the pandemic started. As it turns out, the five share much more than just a vulnerability to disease.

This is the first in a six-part series that will look at how the Covid-19 pandemic is playing out in the BRICS countries.

By now we know that, wherever it has appeared, the SARS-CoV-2 virus seeks out and travels along all known and concealed fault lines in society, that regime responses are shaped by existing politics but often assume a more extreme form, and that the conditions of fear and isolation make democratic mobilisation extremely difficult.

While this is true for all countries, there is some logic to looking at the five BRICS members together.

For some time now, discussions about global political and economic change have been centred on the role played by the so-called rising powers in the world system – and the BRICS countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in particular.

According to some observers, the rise of the BRICS countries heralds the coming of a post-Western world in which Euro-American hegemony in the world system is a thing of the past.

For others, the emergence of the rising powers is propelling a new development model that departs from neoliberal orthodoxies by bringing back public welfare and active state intervention in the economy.

"Not since the days of the Non-Aligned Movement and its demand for a new international economic order in the 1970s," Radhika Desai argued in the context of the 2013 BRICS summit in Durban, "has the world seen such a co-ordinated challenge to Western supremacy in the world economy from developing countries."

However, the BRICS countries are hardly a homogenous bloc. On the contrary, the grouping is arguably frayed by divergent economic and political trajectories. And, what is more, the narrative of a rising South jars with the reality of how the growth processes that have fuelled the rise of the BRICS are shot through with economic and political fault lines.

First of all, the emergence of the rising powers has been coeval with the surfacing of a new geography of global poverty, in which more than 70% of the world's poor now live in middle-income countries. Indeed, impressive growth rates notwithstanding, the Southern BRICS countries (Brazil, India, China and South Africa) are home to more than 50% of the world's poor. Persistent poverty is closely related to very deep and, in most cases, widening inequalities.

South Africa is, of course, a case in point here – recent research shows that the top 10% earns 65% of all income and owns 85.6% of all wealth – but other BRICS countries follow closely behind. In Russia, for example, the top decile of wealth holders controls 77% of all household wealth, a level of inequality that is equal to that of the US, while in India the top 10% of the population holds 77% of the total national wealth.

In Russia, many vulnerable groups are falling through the cracks of a limited welfare system and voluntary efforts are unlikely to remedy these shortcomings.

What these numbers reveal is the fact that, in the BRICS countries, large numbers of people are relegated to the margins of current growth processes as a result of a lack of access to secure and decent livelihoods, absence of basic social protection and essential public services, and exclusion from established political processes.

We argue that the diversity of locations in the global political economy included in the BRICS, together with the similarity of the broad trends outlined above, make for a compelling set of comparisons in relation to the political economy of a pandemic at this time of world system shifts and contestations.

Above all else, the Covid-19 pandemic and the ensuing economic shutdown has laid the fault lines of current growth processes abundantly bare.

Indeed, new research shows very clearly that poverty is set to rise dramatically in the global South, and this is directly related to the deeply precarious nature of work and livelihoods. This series of blog pieces explores three dimensions of the crisis across the BRICS countries.

Firstly, the pandemic creates a new political situation in each of these countries, which presents governing regimes with challenges and opportunities as they navigate the complex interface between public health measures and economic measures.

How well do they do this? Do they emerge strengthened or weakened? Does the crisis present challengers with new opportunities? Does it provide regimes with the opportunity to increase repression?

South Africa's response was to allocate resources for grants and food parcels for the poor and retrenched workers, but state institutions broken by 10 years of corruption failed to deliver.

We demonstrate that in all these cases the pandemic has provoked a more extreme version of existing regime politics. For example, China's initial attempts to conceal the outbreak followed by an extraordinary mobilisation of resources to contain it is consistent with its interests as an emerging superpower whose internal legitimacy and external stature rests on its technocratic prowess in delivering economic growth, the safety of citizens, and preventing dissent.

South Africa's recent return to neoliberal orthodoxy dictated its adoption of a "global best practice" lockdown tailored for the wealthy societies of the West rather than its own fractured society and state, and then abandoned this for a shambolic reopening of the economy which may weaken President Cyril Ramaphosa.

Right-wing nationalist regimes have fared worse. Brazil's Jair Bolsonaro has attempted to deny the existence and seriousness of the pandemic with devastating consequences for those he hopes to crush, and his growing isolation from the elites.

In India, Narendra Modi has used the crisis to consolidate his Messiah-like image in the public sphere, and there is much that suggests that this has at least been partly successful.

In Russia, similarly, it is unlikely that the pandemic will destabilise Vladimir Putin's rule in any substantial way.

Secondly, how does the pandemic affect the dominated classes? It does of course have a devastating impact on livelihoods. In fact, in all of the BRICS countries the working poor, precarious and informal workers, and the unemployed have to bear the brunt of both the pandemic itself and economic devastation. However, the question is also whether or to what extent these scenarios lead to relief measures and expanding welfare initiatives from above, or whether the crisis is characterised by brutal indifference to the suffering of the poor.

In India, there have been scattered protests by desperate migrant workers and extensive relief work, but little by way of sustained organised protest, given the repressive conditions of the lockdown.

South Africa's response was to allocate resources for grants and food parcels for the poor and retrenched workers, but state institutions broken by 10 years of corruption failed to deliver.

The Modi regime in India has systematically disregarded the needs of the country's most vulnerable citizens. The result has been nothing short of a humanitarian crisis.

In Brazil, public pressure forced Bolsonaro to order financial relief for the poor, but his brutal indifference to the pandemic is devastating poor communities.

In Russia, many vulnerable groups are falling through the cracks of a limited welfare system and voluntary efforts are unlikely to remedy these shortcomings.

In China, the regime's systematic response appears to have protected its citizens, but the comprehensive control over information means it is difficult to tell the situation on the ground and particularly in the repressed populations of Tibet and Xinjiang.

This takes us to our third dimension: what is the popular response to this crisis and the politics of the regime? Do old and new movements and popular initiatives respond in innovative ways to the crisis? Do they focus on mobilising relief for the poor and marginalised communities? Do they attempt to work with the regime or challenge its responses? To what extent do new demands emerge from below in response to popular desperation?

In Brazil, movements and activist networks have organised mutual solidarity, educating, organising food supplies and demands for healthcare, but with no connection to or response from left-wing parties or Bolsonaro.

These questions are important, as inequality and precarity had already thrown up political convulsions across the BRICS countries before the Covid-19 pandemic. In the current situation, the BRICS countries exhibit a wide range of popular responses.

In India, there have been scattered protests by desperate migrant workers and extensive relief work, but little by way of sustained organised protest, given the repressive conditions of the lockdown.

South Africa, in contrast, has seen vibrant organising and mobilising at local levels but this has been unable to achieve the kind of national coordination activists aspire to.

In Russia, protests against the government's handling of the pandemic have taken a variety of forms, ranging from online live streams to mass gatherings, while Russian authorities have responded with a mix of co-optation and repression.

In Brazil, movements and activist networks have organised mutual solidarity, educating, organising food supplies and demands for healthcare, but with no connection to or response from left-wing parties or Bolsonaro.

The Chinese government tolerated the efforts of volunteers to support health workers, but has tightened its repressive control of the internet, information and the revolt in Hong Kong, where activists and the general public provided a coordinated response to the pandemic in the face of its battered authorities' inaction.

What the contributions in this collection bring out, then, are the many ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has deepened existing fractures and fault lines in the political economies of the rising powers in the world system. And, significantly, this complex and contradictory scenario will also be the terrain upon which social movements will organise and mobilise for years to come.

Whether or not these movements will be able to chart alternative developmental pathways that are less unequal and less precarious than those which the BRICS countries have pursued so far, of course, remains to be seen. What is clear, however, is that this is a moment in which it is imperative to raise an array of critical questions about the nature of growth processes in the BRICS countries. This is necessary both in order to unsettle those narratives that too easily and one-sidedly see the rise of the BRICS as a progressive shift in the world system, and – to paraphrase the British cultural theorist Raymond Williams – to make hope practical, rather than despair convincing.

We hope the perspectives offered in this collection go some way towards that end. DM/MC

Alf Gunvald Nilsen is a professor of sociology at the University of Pretoria. Karl von Holdt is at the Society, Work and Politics Institute, University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg.

This article is the first in a collection that comes out of a collaborative project comparing neoliberal politics and social movement responses in the BRICS countries, generously supported by the National Institute for the Humanities and the Social Sciences (NIHSS) in South Africa. It is republished with permission from The Wire, an independent online publication in India and the original can be found here.

Is BRICS falling apart, brick by brick? (БРИКС разваливается, кирпичик за кирпичиком?) / South Africa, July, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues, covid-19
South Africa

As individual nations try to position themselves for a changed world after the coronavirus pandemic, the shifts taking place in geopolitics need to be taken into account. In South Africa's case, the partnership with BRICS needs to be reassessed and its failings must be recognised.

While we as citizens and sovereign states are preoccupied with the devastating effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and the shocking global death toll, we must also remain vigilant as to the changes that are happening on the geopolitical front.

Besides the obvious matter of the trade war between the two largest economic powerhouses, the United States and China, which is having a global negative effect, we in South Africa are carefully watching our partnerships in international multilateral formations such as BRICS.

The study of international relations as defined in the Theories of IR 3rd edition 2001 suggests that dominant concerns in international relations revolve around five things:

  • Dominant Actors – traditionally this was the sovereign state but the list now includes entities such as transnational corporations, international organisations such as the World Trade Organisation, international non-government organisations such as Amnesty International, new social movements including women and ecological movements and international terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (Isis).
  • Dominant Relationships – strategic relations between powers traditionally, but also more recently trade relations between advanced industrial societies.
  • Empirical Issues – the distribution of military power, arms control and crisis management but also globalisation, global inequality, identity politics and national fragmentation, the universal human rights culture and plight of refugees, gender issues, environmental conservation, transnational crimes plus global drug trade and pandemics.
  • Ethical Issues – "the just war", the rights and wrongs of humanitarian intervention, the case for and against the global redistribution of power and wealth.
Alongside this is the view (the realist or egoist theory) that the world is essentially anarchic and individual states need to regulate this through their own power and security structures.

In this view, it is a matter of each to his own ability and the survival of the fittest. The bigger your economic and military might, the better your sovereignty will survive. Put another way, perhaps, the weak suffer what they must, while the strong do as they can. This has been the bedrock of the US and European world view for many years since World War I, and many have suffered as a result.

It was precisely because of the very skewed and one-sided view of who the dominant actors were and which dominant relationships mattered, the skewed nature of the empirical issues under consideration, and the selectiveness of the ethical issues that were deemed important, that some leaders began shaping an alternative approach. This skew is what many say necessitated the second-tier economies to band together and form a counterweight formation to the dominant Western actors.

And so, BRIC was born, comprising Brazil, Russia, China and India. And since Africa was not represented, China insisted that South Africa also join, hence BRICS. Many, including the Goldman Sachs employee who coined the term BRIC, wondered why South Africa was the African country that got to be included. Still today many argue the point. For whatever reason, South Africa is there, and we must ask the question whether it is still beneficial for us to be part of this formation.

After all, three of its member countries are now being governed by tyrants and neo-nationalist presidents: Vladimir Putin in Russia, Narendra Modi in India and Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil. And though I know some would want to also include Xi Jinping's name, that's a matter for debate and I don't think he belongs on the list. The reason is simple. We might not all agree on the form of government and democracy being practised in China but that does not make it inherently wrong. A debatable point, I know. But let's take a look at how the formation has come undone in recent times.

China is embroiled in a trade war with the US that is negatively affecting all countries globally, including SA. It has imposed stringent security laws on Hong Kong in order to flex its muscle and to avoid another possible secession incident. The China-India border dispute raises questions about why they remain partners. Brazil and India are messing up their response to the Covid pandemic, leading not only to large numbers of deaths but also damaging the economies of these countries. India's Modi is also a neo nationalist leader who has apparently given his consent to the continued Muslim massacres in that country. These should be condemned in the harshest terms. And Russia's Putin is yet another benevolent dictatorship. The Russian economy is taking a beating during this time of Covid. All this does not augur well for South Africa in its membership of this club of misfits.

Our traditional Western partners in the form of the European Union and the US have watched in some shock as the BRICS body genuinely enacted a counterweight to their hegemony globally: how Third World countries in both Africa and Latin America embraced China and have been so accepting of its investments and loans; how the partner countries have exponentially increased intra-trade among each other; and so much more. The BRICS countries have also increased their respective military joint exercises throughout the globe, posing an obvious threat to Western countries, it would seem.

Our experience with these Western partners has shown that the Washington Consensus myth is just that: a myth that says follow these rules and practise democracy like us and you will one day be exactly like us. In the meantime the relationship remains by and large an exploitative one and none of us in the developing world is anywhere near being like them. BRICS have launched their own development bank as a counter to the IMF and World Bank formations whose chairs can only be elected from Europe and the US. These banks, through their respective lending practices, ensure that the West benefits and the borrowing countries remain in a debt trap. One only has to look at the EU trade agreement and the difficulties South Africa experienced with President Barack Obama's administration in the matter of the renewal of the AGOA trade agreement.

Our foreign policy in the main is driven by principles of human rights, both domestically and internationally. And when looking at the track records of both groupings this criterion doesn't look good at all. On the one hand BRICS partners are coming loose at the seams and Western powers are becoming more and more insular and isolationist in their outlook. Where does it put SA?

China, Russia and India respectively are violating the human rights of their own citizens while the EU, US and UK have not only encroached significantly on the privacy rights of their citizens but have violated human rights and committed war crimes in Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Libya, Lebanon and Palestine, to mention but a few. The latter group also does not account to the International Court of Justice yet everyone else does.

There was much celebration when SA joined the BRIC formation because at the time it made sense to be part of such a noble idea – to challenge the decades of skewed global governance on all fronts; a counter to the IMF, World Bank and WTO which had ensured that they would preserve the national interests of the West while the United Nations Security Council would be used as a big stick to whip us all into order and submission.

The world post-Covid will be a changed one. The question is will it be for the better or will we simply see a continuation of the old order, that the strong will do what they can, and the will weak suffer what they must. DM

Oscar van Heerden is a scholar of International Relations (IR), where he focuses on International Political Economy, with an emphasis on Africa, and SADC in particular. He completed his PhD and Masters studies at the University of Cambridge (UK). His undergraduate studies were at Turfloop and Wits. He is an active fellow of the Mapungubwe Institute for Strategic Reflections (MISTRA) and is a trustee for the Kgalema Motlanthe Foundation.

Investment and Finance
Investment and finance in BRICS
New Development Bank's 'AA+' long-term issuer default rating affirmed by Fitch ratings (Долгосрочный рейтинг дефолта эмитента Нового банка развития «AA +» подтвержден рейтингами Fitch.) / China, July, 202
Keywords: ndb, rating

On July 29, 2020, New Development Bank's Long-Term Issuer Default Rating (IDR) was affirmed by Fitch Ratings at 'AA+' with a Stable Outlook. Fitch Ratings also affirmed the Bank's Short-Term Issuer Default Rating at 'F1+'. The full press release announcing Fitch's decision is available on the website of the rating agency.

"NDB's 'AA+' rating continues to be driven by its existing and expected intrinsic features, based on Fitch's long-term projections," stated Fitch Ratings. "Fitch continues to consider NDB's capitalisation as 'excellent'."

Fitch Ratings assessed the Bank's risk management policies as 'strong', mainly reflecting its self-imposed rules, primarily on capitalisation and liquidity metrics. "Most of NDB's policies are prudent and in line with 'AAA' rated peers," stated the rating agency.

Fitch Ratings also noted that NDB will continue to support its member countries by providing crisis-related assistance, including for financing health and social safety expenditures caused by COVID-19, as well as supporting economic recovery.

"The affirmation of NDB's 'AA+' long-term issuer default rating by Fitch is a testament to the strong shareholder support, high quality loan portfolio and sound risk management framework embedded by the Bank as it establishes itself as a global high quality issuer," said Mr. Leslie Maasdorp, NDB Vice President and CFO.

The document entitled "Fitch Affirms New Development Bank at 'AA+'; Outlook Stable", dated July 29, 2020, is entirely the copyright of, and is reproduced with the permission of Fitch Ratings.

Background Information

NDB was established by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa to mobilize resources for infrastructure and sustainable development projects in BRICS and other emerging economies and developing countries, complementing the existing efforts of multilateral and regional financial institutions for global growth and development. The NDB received 'AA+' long-term issuer credit ratings from S&P and Fitch and 'AAA' foreign currency long-term issuer ratings from Japan Credit Rating Agency (JCR) and Analytical Credit Rating Agency (ACRA).

India Discusses Preferential Trade Agreement with Southern African Customs Union (Индия обсуждает соглашение о преференциальной торговле с Таможенным союзом Южной Африки) / India, July, 2020
Keywords: trade_relations

Indian and Southern African Customs Union trade officials have held online meetings to discuss a Preferential Trade Agreement (PTA); if implemented, it will reduce tariffs on a variety of products.

The Southern African Customs Union (SACU) is the world's oldest customs union, and includes South Africa, Namibia, Botswana, Lesotho, and Eswatini (formerly Swaziland). It was established in 1910.

Both India and the SACU lead nation, South Africa, are members of the BRICS grouping of countries. We examined the FTA potential among the BRICS nations in the article BRICS 2019 Summit Declaration – Free Trade Agreement on the Horizon? and also noted that by 2030, BRICS nations will account for 50 percent of all global trade.

According to Srikar Reddy, India's Joint Secretary at the Department of Commerce, 2019-20 trade between India and Africa as a whole stood at US$66.7 billion, including US$10.9 billion in specific India-SACU trade.

Steve Katjiuanjo, the Executive Director at Namibia's Ministry of Industrialization, Trade, and SME Development called India a strategic partner, noting that the region is benefiting from access to the vast Indian market. According to trade officials, India stood fully committed and ready to support manufacturing and industry in Namibia in areas as diverse as agriculture, irrigation, renewables, ICT, pharma, and medical supplies.

Bilateral trade between India and Namibia reached US$135.92 million in 2018-19. India's exports were valued at US$82.37 million, while imports stood at US$53.55 million. The mining sector is an area of mutual interest for the two countries. Namibia is rich in uranium, diamonds, copper, phosphates, and other minerals. Bilateral cooperation in the energy and agricultural sectors also has good prospects.

Statistics showed that trade between India and South Africa also grew to over US$10 billion during the Indian fiscal year of 2018-19. Exports from India to South Africa included vehicles and components, drugs and pharmaceuticals, engineering goods, footwear, dyes and intermediates, as well as chemicals, textiles, rice, gems and jewelry, etc. India imported gold, steam coal, copper ores and concentrates, phosphoric acid, manganese ore, aluminum ingots, and other minerals.

It is relatively easy for African companies to enter the Indian market, with inexpensive options, such as establishing Liaison Offices, which are able to access market entry at low costs and is a suitable strategy for trading businesses. Larger businesses may use a variety of investment options in India, such as setting up Wholly Owned Companies or a joint venture.

World of Work
Monitoring and Evaluating the Level of Fulfillment of Commitments Made by Leaders at the G20 and BRICS Summits in 2018 (Мониторинг и оценка уровня исполнения обязательств, принятых лидерами на саммитах "Группы двадцати" и БРИКС 2018 года ) / Russia, July 2020
Keywords: research, summit

English Abstract: The main objective of this study was to conduct a comparative assessment of the G20 and BRICS members' compliance with the collective decisions made in the priority areas of cooperation to provide data for Russia's participation in the G20 and BRICS and to give recommendations for Russia's chairmanship in BRICS in 2020.

For the G20 summit in 2018 the overall compliance score reached 77.6%. High level of performance was achieved for the Paris Agreement and WTO reform decisions, lowest scores – for commitments in new and more specific areas of big data management and FinTech, and also for the IMF reform. For the BRICS summit in Johannesburg, average compliance score is 85%.
Cooperation within the G20 and BRICS ensures Russia's participation in agenda-setting, policy-shaping and decision-making on the most important global governance issues. The members' compliance with the commitments made at the summits is an effective tool for promoting national interests in key areas of international cooperation. Moreover, the implementation of collective decisions contributes to creating favorable conditions for attaining Russia's national priorities in socio-economic development.

Note: Downloadable document is in Russian.

Renewable Energy: Why BRICS Needs to Take Charge (Возобновляемая энергия: почему БРИКС должен взять на себя ответственность) / South Africa, August, 2020
Keywords: expert_opinion, ecology
South Africa

Renewable energy plays a vital role in achieving energy security – a pressing issue for developing countries such as India. Alliances such as BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) can prove to be extremely advantageous if they invest in clean energy and leverage their combined potential to push for more stringent, legally binding protocol at a national and international scale. In the past decade, investment in renewable energy by the BRICS block increased by almost threefold. More recently, however, the pace of development in this sector has taken a hit. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the energy sector has also shown the need for stronger policy framework and the exchange of local solutions and technologies.

India in the bigger picture

Despite the progress made in the last decade, as of late 2019, the Indian renewable energy sector's growth had fallen to a five-year low. The COVID-19 pandemic might add further strain to the sector. For example, one of the short-term impacts in 2020 could be the loss of 2-3 gigawatt (GW) capacity addition. This is significant considering that the country has set an ambitious goal of generating 175 GW of renewable energy by 2022. Research also shows that the medium-term consequences of the pandemic could range from policy uncertainty risks to a push for local manufacturing.

Therefore, now more than ever is the time to push funding for comprehensive energy research, development, and deployment (RD&D) which plays a critical role in shaping India's energy policy goals. And collaborating with international partners that have similar needs could prove to be valuable in the long run. International multilateral agreements often boost ambitious and stringent national policies. They also serve as much needed incentives for the private sector to commercialize renewable energy technologies. Additionally, such collaboration could serve as a means of strengthening diplomatic ties using environment, energy, and climate change as the backdrop. It could also offer India significant clout and increased negotiating power at global summits such as the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) where the country is already a part of blocks such as BRICS, BASIC, G4, G77, etc.

Some international conferences have been criticised in the past for failing to achieve any significant large-scale impact due to the lack of consequences that countries face when targets are not met. Besides, some decisions are usually opposed by developing economies which see them as a threat to their development. For example, some of the biggest opponents of carbon emission cuts proposed at the UNFCCC 2019 included India, China, Russia and Brazil. However, as countries where renewable energy already takes up a significant portion of the total electricity generation, and there is scope for far more, these nations are truly poised to take the lead in this matter. The shift to clean energy does not have to come at the cost of development; rather, it should be perceived as a key factor in boosting development and economic growth and empowering these nations in the long run.

BRICS: An influential stakeholder

BRICS constitutes approximately one-third of the world's population as well as one-third of the world's GDP in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. BRICS countries also account for 36 percent of the global primary energy supply and this share may surge by almost 50 percent by 2040, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA). This allows the block to wield tremendous influence over the future of the global clean energy transition as they play a crucial role in the world economy and energy market. This transition also favors the individual nations as it lowers the costs of renewables, boosts 'green collar' employment and leads to enhanced energy security and local air quality.

Despite engaging in talks surrounding the energy sector since 2009 and setting up mechanisms such as the New Development Bank of BRICS (NDB), most of the energy cooperation between BRICS countries remains at a bilateral level. For example, the joint Indo-Russian project to build the Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu, the largest nuclear power station in India. Various factors have obstructed BRICS multilateral energy cooperation – from inter-group competition to different socio-economic approaches to development. There is also the continual threat of dwindling interest in cooperation as all BRICS nations already have established ties with other countries outside BRICS, whom they depend on for their energy supply.

Source: BP Statistical Review 2019 Source: BP Statistical Review 2019 In line with India's declining trend, investment in renewables has decreased in other BRICS nations too – partly due to falling costs. China – the second-largest producer of renewable energy in the world – has been facing a slowdown in the clean energy transition due to lower government investment. Brazil, a country where 75% of the new electric power comes from water-generated energy, has been slow to enter the solar and wind power landscape. South Africa and Russia, which have huge potential to develop solar and hydroelectric energy respectively, have not yet made these sources a significant part of their energy mix.

However, the potential that BRICS possesses is still massive. It can be a strategic step geopolitically as well – by increasing the share of renewables in the required energy mix, countries can alleviate geopolitical tensions and reduce dependence on unstable regions for their energy supply. As opposed to clean energy, nations dependent on fossil fuels, heavily rely on fossil fuel-rich countries which creates a necessity for extended military protection in order to secure transportation routes.

Global frameworks, local solutions

With smarter planning, developing economies can also come up with indigenous solutions. For example, Brazil is known for its usage of sugarcane alcohol, which it uses to power more than half of the country's car fleet. In India, voluntary initiatives such as the Barefoot College in Rajasthan, which teaches rural women and men to manufacture and install solar panels, have been successful as well. The Barefoot approach has already found success in other countries in Asia, Africa, and South America as well. Such cases exemplify how making use of locally abundant products and using decentralized approaches can enable developing countries to gradually shift to green energy in an innovative yet efficient manner.

In the Altai Republic of Russia, nomadic communities make use of portable solar panels which allow them to migrate comfortably while continuing to engage with their traditional livelihood. Such indigenous communities are also present in other BRICS nations such as India and Brazil, where their territories are strongly associated with solar, geothermal, and other resources. BRICS could thus collaborate on how to better engage with such communities to find culturally appropriate energy solutions. 'Glocalization' – adapting global ideas to local contexts – could therefore be a possible answer because while the challenges might be global, the on-ground solutions need to be local.

Further, energy security is inherently linked to environmental problems such as climate change. These problems transcend national borders and developing countries tend to experience some of the worse repercussions. They also potentially hinder international cooperation, which is why researchers believe there is a growing need for global environmental governance. It might, therefore, be in the interests of these nations to share their knowledge, technology, and resources with each other for a better sustainable energy transition instead of looking to the global North to lead the way. Paired with trade facilitation, complementary energy strategies may prove beneficial to every member of the group.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author.

The influence of financial openness, trade openness, and energy intensity on ecological footprint: revisiting the environmental Kuznets curve hypothesis for BRICS countries (Влияние финансовой открытости, открытости торговли и энергоемкости на экологический след: пересмотр экологической гипотезы кривой Кузнеца для стран БРИКС) / India, July, 2020
Keywords: research, trade_relations, economic_challenges, ecology

This study aims to examine the impact of economic growth, financial openness, trade openness, and energy intensity on the ecological footprint of BRICS countries for the period 1996–2016 in the framework of the environmental Kuznets curve (EKC). In the research phases, the effects of financial openness and trade openness on ecological footprint were examined both individually and as a whole using three models. The results indicate that the EKC hypothesis is not valid in all BRICS countries. Specifically, the individual results demonstrate that the EKC model using financial openness is valid only for India, while the EKC model using trade openness is valid both for India and South Africa. Furthermore, financial openness has reduced environmental pollution in India and South Africa. Trade openness has reduced environmental pollution in China and India, while it has increased in South Africa. Lastly, energy intensity has increased environmental pollution in all countries except Russia for both models. Overall, policy-makers should develop policies to reduce energy intensity in BRICS countries.
Heads of BRICS Competition Authorities discussed key issues of five-party cooperation (Руководители конкурентных ведомств стран БРИКС обсудили ключевые вопросы пятистороннего сотрудничества) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: fas, concluded_agreements, top_level_meeting

On July 23, the Heads of BRICS competition authorities met via videoconference. The event was held under the auspices of the Russian Federation's presidency of the BRICS interstate association in 2020

The meeting was opened by the Head of the Federal Antimonopoly Service Igor Artemiev, announcing the indefinite extension of the Memorandum of Understanding between the BRICS Competition Authorities on Cooperation in the field of Competition Law and Policy.

"Coordination between our agencies is highly advanced. We have the opportunity to conduct joint consultations and investigations, for which I would like to give special thanks to my colleagues. We have signed a Declaration of the Heads of BRICS competition agencies, the purpose of which is to extend for an indefinite period the Memorandum of understanding between BRICS competition agencies in the field of cooperation in the field of competition law and policy. This is the first five-party document signed within the framework of the Russian Federation's presidency of the BRICS interstate association in 2020, which demonstrates the commitment of the BRICS antimonopoly regulators to develop and strengthen cooperation between our countries in the field of antimonopoly policy," said Igor Artemiev.

During the meeting, the parties discussed the impact of the pandemic on the markets of the BRICS countries, as well as measures to maintain a healthy competitive environment in the current conditions. Special attention was paid to the issues of consolidating five-party efforts to combat the negative economic consequences of the pandemic and promoting the gradual resumption and stabilization of the economy in the context of the gradual removal of restrictive measures.

In order to confirm the willingness of the competition agencies to cooperate in the context of the pandemic and promote competition in the BRICS countries, the Heads of the BRICS competition agencies adopted a Joint statement on consolidating efforts to combat the negative economic consequences of COVID-19.

"The joint statement on the consolidation of efforts to combat the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 will emphasize the importance of our work and the intention to further develop cooperation to combat the consequences of a new coronavirus infection. The FAS Russia has prepared a draft Joint statement, the document was agreed by the competition agencies of Brazil, China, South Africa and India," said Lesya Davydova, Head of the Department for International Economic Cooperation of the FAS Russia.

While on the subject of consequences of the pandemic, Igor Artemiev noted changes that could not but affect the economic side of life in our countries and the activities of Antimonopoly authorities:

"During the crisis, it was important for us not only to quickly undertake tasks of preventing unjustified price increases for socially important goods, suppressing cartel activity, and quickly adapting the Authority to "extreme conditions" of work, but also to prevent the impact of negative consequences on competition in the future. I would like to emphasize that the market economy of Russia has allowed us to fulfill all these tasks without resorting to administrative resources."

The Head of the FAS Russia highlighted that the experience of competition agencies during the crisis will be useful in the future:

"We have switched to remote consideration of antimonopoly cases and plan to continue this practice. Now you do not need to fly 9 hours from Vladivostok to a meeting of the Commission of the FAS Russia, you can do it distantly. Our activities become operational, and contractors do not bear organizational costs. In this regard, it is important and useful for the BRICS competition agencies to adopt a Joint statement on measures to combat the consequences of the pandemic. Our agencies quickly responded to the most pressing issues of people's real life, and we need to share this experience."

During the meeting, Igor Artemiev also thanked his colleagues for their practical cooperation in investigating cases of violation of antimonopoly laws that have a cross-border effect, and reviewing global transactions of economic concentration. Thus, there were successful examples of interaction in relation to global transactions of economic concentration (Monsanto/Bayer, Siemens/Alstom), as well as mergers of Alstom/Bombardier and IFF/DuPont, which are currently being considered by antimonopoly regulators of the BRICS countries.

In order to systematize and optimize work in this direction, the parties discussed the draft Model guidelines for applying waivers of confidentiality when approving global economic concentration transactions in the BRICS countries, developed by the FAS Russia. According to the Head of the FAS Russia, the application of Model guidelines will help BRICS competition agencies to facilitate the procedure for controlling mergers, more systematically interact on specific transactions, which will reduce the time for reviewing transactions, avoid making conflicting decisions in different jurisdictions, and guarantee the protection of confidential information, which in turn is beneficial for companies that are parties to transactions.

"Our five countries represent one half of the market for the products of transnational companies (TNC). That is why the common requirements for mergers and acquisitions developed jointly by the BRICS antimonopoly authorities strengthen the effect of our regulations, decisions and judicial practices. We have elaborated a draft Model guidelines for applying the waiver when approving global transactions of economic concentration in the BRICS countries. I propose to schedule the adoption of this document within the framework of the next meeting of the BRICS Coordinating Committee on Antimonopoly Policy, which is planed to be held in September 2020," the Head of the FAS Russia addressed his colleagues.

The initiative to adopt Model guidelines was positively received by the Heads of BRICS competition agencies. Besides, an agreement was reached to continue working together in this direction, and the Competition Commission of India proposed to form an appropriate group of experts from among the representatives of BRICS competition agencies in order to further develop the text of the document.

In the course of the deliberation, participants discussed preparations for the 8th UN Review Conference of the Set on Competition, which should include the adoption of Guiding Policies and Procedures under Section F of the UN Set on Competition.

Furthermore, the BRICS competition authorities supported the initiative of the FAS Russia to include the issue of combating cross-border cartels in the work of the Intergovernmental group of experts on competition law and policy of UNCTAD for the next 5 years and expressed their readiness to become co-sponsors of the project.

"I would like to thank the competition authorities of the BRICS countries for supporting the initiative of the FAS Russia to include the issue of combating cross-border cartels into the work of the Intergovernmental group of experts on competition law and policy of UNCTAD for the next 5 years. Our joint work in this direction will be of historical significance. Today, international provisions do not regulate international cartels, and it turns out that TNCs dictate the terms to entire countries and peoples. In fact, our agencies, which are developing the practice of detecting and suppressing cross-border cartels, are pioneers in addressing this priority issue. I hope that through our efforts international standards for regulating transnational cartels will be adopted by 2025," said Igor Artemiev.

A separate item on the agenda of the videoconference was the discussion of issues related to the intensification of interaction between regulators on the basis of the BRICS International Center for competition law and policy.

Alexey Ivanov, Director of the BRICS Antimonopoly Center, spoke about what is expected to be done in the coming years and what tasks the Center sets for itself. Representatives of the BRICS competition agencies highly appreciated the work of the Russian Center.

Deputy Head of the FAS Russia Andrey Tsyganov also shared the results of five-party cooperation within the framework of the Center's activity:

"Development of scientific expertise on a wide range of issues of competition law and policy, as well as the development of approaches to solving existing problems in the BRICS space, carried out jointly by the BRICS Antimonopoly authorities and the scientific community within the framework of the BRICS International Center for competition law and policy, will help us achieve our goals. Establishment and operation of this center is actively supported by the Government of the Russian Federation."

Gan Lin, Deputy Minister of the State Administration for Market Regulation of the People's Republic of China, spoke about the status of preparations for the Seventh BRICS Competition Conference, which will be held in September 2021 in Chengdu, Sichuan province.

Igor Artemiev emphasized that the FAS Russia is always open to dialogue, ready to share the experience of holding a conference and assist in preparing the agenda.

The meeting was also attended by Alexander Barreto de Souza, President of the Administrative Council for Economic Defense of Brazil, Ashok Kumar Gupta, Head of the Competition Commission of India, Gan Lin, Deputy Minister of the State Administration for Market Regulation of China, and Tembinkosi Bonakele, Head of the Competition Commission of South Africa.

Heads of BRICS competition authorities adopted a Joint Statement on COVID-19 (Руководители конкурентных ведомств стран БРИКС приняли Совместное заявление по COVID-19) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: concluded_agreements, fas, top_level_meeting

On July 23, a meeting was held within the framework of the Russian Federation's presidency of the BRICS interstate association in 2020

During the meeting, the Heads of the BRICS competition authorities discussed the changes that have taken place in the world due to the spread of COVID-19, which considerably affected the economic life of the BRICS countries and introduced new changes to the daily work of antimonopoly regulators.

"The adoption of the Joint statement on consolidating efforts to combat the negative economic consequences of COVID-19 during our meeting shows once again how important our work is and our intention to continue and increase our five - party cooperation to combat the consequences of the pandemic," Igor Artemiev said.

The purpose of the Joint statement, developed at the initiative of the FAS Russia, is to confirm the readiness and commitment of the BRICS competition authorities to cooperate with each other in crisis circumstances to protect competition in socially important BRICS markets. In addition, this document expresses the intention of the five antimonopoly regulators to strengthen antimonopoly response to overcome the economic and social consequences of the pandemic in the context of the gradual removal of restrictions in connection with COVID-19 and the gradual resumption of economic activity in the BRICS countries.

Heads of BRICS Competition Authorities discuss key cooperation issues (Руководители конкурентных ведомств стран БРИКС обсудили ключевые вопросы сотрудничества) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: fas, top_level_meeting

On 23 July, Mr Igor Artemyev, Head of the Russian Federal AntiMonopoly Service (the FAS Russia), chaired the Meeting of the Heads of BRICS Competition Authorities via videoconference.

The meeting saw the presence of Mr Alexandre Barreto de Souza, President of Brazil's Administrative Council for Economic Defence, Mr Ashok Kumar Gupta, Chairperson of the Competition Commission of India, Ms Gan Lin, Deputy Director of the State Administration for Market Regulation of the People's Republic of China, and Mr Tembinkosi Bonakele, Commissioner of the South African Competition Commission.

The participants discussed the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on BRICS markets and measures to maintain a healthy competitive environment under the current circumstances. They also discussed the initiative to adopt the Model recommendations on the use of waivers (information confidentiality waiver) when coordinating global economic concentration transactions within BRICS, as well as other topical issues related to cooperation between the competition authorities of the five countries on the relevant international platforms.

"Coordination between our agencies has reached a high level. We can hold joint consultations and carry out investigations, and I would like to thank my colleagues for this. We have signed the Declaration by the Heads of BRICS Competition Authorities so that Memorandum of Understanding on Cooperation in the Field of Competition Law and Policy among the BRICS Competition Authorities remains in force for an indefinite period. This was the first document signed by the five countries within the 2020 Russian BRICS Chairmanship, which indicates the commitment by the BRICS regulators to facilitating and enhancing cooperation between our countries on competition affairs," Mr Artemyev pointed out.

Assisting phased efforts to restore economic activity under the pandemic restrictions being lifted became a separate item on the meeting agenda. The Heads of the BRICS Competition Authorities adopted a Joint Statement on consolidating efforts to fight the negative economic consequences of COVID-19.

In addition, the participants discussed preparations for the 8th United Nations Conference on Competition and Consumer Protection, which is expected to include the adoption of guidelines and rules for international cooperation. The partners also supported the initiative put forward by the Russian Federal AntiMonopoly Service on including the issueof fighting cross-border cartels on the next five-year agenda of the UNCTAD Intergovernmental Group of Experts (IGE) on Competition Law and Policy.

Mr Andrei Tsyganov, Deputy Head of the FAS Russia, , presented the outcomes of cooperation between the five countries within the BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre: "Research expertise on a broad range of competition law and policy issues will help us achieve the tasks we are facing, as well as develop approaches to addressing the existing challenges across the BRICS through joint efforts by the BRICS Competition Authorities and academia within the BRICS Competition Law and Policy Centre. The Government of the Russian Federation proactively supported this centre's creation and operation."
New York Times and AP make contradictory allegations against InfoBRICS (Нью-Йорк Таймс и AP выдвигают противоречивые обвинения против InfoBRICS) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: political_issues, expert_opinion

Paul Antonopoulos, independent geopolitical analyst

With the 2020 U.S. Presidential elections just a few months away, American media are back into overdrive to concoct a narrative that Russia is interfering in American democracy, just as it attempted to do with embarrassing affect in 2016. Without dwelling heavily on the already debunked notion that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections, we remember that the foundation of this allegation was based on Moscow hacking into the servers of the Democratic National Committee (DNC).

Robert Mueller was assigned as the Special Counsel for the Department of Justice to investigate Russian interference. It was hoped his investigation would confirm beyond reasonable doubt that Russia interfered in the 2016 elections. This was a curious decision by the Department of Justice considering Mueller had an active role in promoting the conspiracy that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. He was one of many that 'legitimized' the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

As part of his investigations, Mueller refused to interview former National Security Agency technical director William Binney, who through forensic analysis proved that the DNC emails were leaked from within rather than hacked by Russia. Mueller, a combat veteran from the American war against Vietnam, also signed off that 17 different intelligence services concluded that Russia had hacked the servers. In actual fact it was only three intelligence services, in which one of them, the National Security Agency, only had "moderate confidence" that Russia hacked the servers.

There are many other serious problems and holes in the allegations that Russia hacked the DNC servers, in which the whole narrative that the 2016 U.S. elections experienced Russian interference is built on. This concocted narrative pushed by American media was not enough to prevent Donald Trump from becoming president. U.S. false flags and fake news narratives have achieved their goals in the past. The Gulf of Tonkin incident and the myth of weapons of mass destruction, which legitimized American invasions of Vietnam and Iraq respectively, are such examples. However, we now live in an age of rapid communication and information dissemination. Such hoaxes are much more difficult to achieve today than it was before social media and broadband internet.

Despite the monumental failure of pushing the Russian interference story in 2016, The New York Times and Associated Press have now resurrected the same failed tactic. Both the NYT and AP in articles published this week claim that InfoBrics, InfoRos and OneWorld are a media front and have strong connections to Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (GRU).

Both the NYT and AP claim that InfoBrics is used to "spread of disinformation" and cites the article "Beijing Believes COVID-19 is a Biological Weapon" as an example of this. Both agencies omit the careful language used by the author, such as "possibility," "hypothesis," and the clearly written statement that "Obviously, it is possible that [coronavirus] is not a biological weapon." However, even more damning is that the NYT says " published reports about Beijing's contention that the coronavirus was originally an American biological weapon," as if it was conclusive evidence of the conspiratorial nature of InfoBrics. The NYT however omit that it too also published the same allegations by China. AP then accuses InfoBrics of having "amplified statements by the Chinese" about the coronavirus bioweapon allegation, having contradictorily amplified those very same statements themselves.

When it comes to foreign policy issues, U.S. mainstream media outlets are sometimes doggedly united. This is why despite their domestic differences, they collectively call for regime change operations in Syria and Venezuela to the point of whitewashing jihadist groups and narcotic smugglers, concoct narratives of Russian interference in the elections of the most powerful country in the world, and push Chinaphobia onto their audiences.

The U.S. sees every independent opinion as an act of espionage – mostly from Russian state structures such as the GRU. For a country that prides itself as "Land of the Free, Home of the Brave," 90% of American media is owned by only six companies. Media freedom in the U.S., according to the Reporters Without Borders 2020 World Press Freedom Index, is ranked 45 in the whole world, behind countries like Botswana, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Trinidad and Tobago. The U.S. has the illusion of media freedoms, but in practise, news in the U.S. is monopolized.

What makes InfoBrics different compared to the monotony of American media is that it publishes different views for its readers to contemplate current developments in the world. This allows a diversity of opinions to be expressed, rather than the repeated arguments heard all across American media when it comes to foreign policy issues.

BRICS Energy Agencies discuss relevant issues on the agenda of the Russian BRICS Chairmanship and preparations for the Ministerial Meeting (Энергетические агентства БРИКС обсуждают актуальные вопросы повестки дня председательства России в БРИКС и подготовку к министерской встрече) / Russia, July, 2020
Keywords: cooperation, sustainable_development

On 27 ̶ 28 July, Meetings of BRICS Committee of Senior Energy Officials and Working Group on Energy Saving and Energy Efficiency under the Russian BRICS Chairmanship took place via videoconference.

From the Russian Side the meetings saw the presence of the representatives of the Ministry of Energy, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Economic Development, the Ministry of Education and Science, the Federal Agency for the Commonwealth of Independent States Affairs, Compatriots Living Abroad, and International Humanitarian Cooperation (Rossotrudnichestvo), the Energy Research Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences, the Energy Complex Competence Centre, and the Russian National Committee of the World Energy Council (RNC WEC).

The experts focused on the further expansion of BRICS Energy Research Cooperation Platform activities, including interim results, research priorities and the themes of next surveys, the format and mechanisms of its operation.

The impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the development of the energy sector of the BRICS countries, the possibilities of international cooperation to overcome its consequences, as well as sharing the experience in the field of measures to support fuel and energy complex taken by the national governments of the BRICS countries have also become important topics of discussion. The meeting participants exchanged views on a Draft Roadmap for BRICS Energy Cooperation 2025 and the development of youth energy dialogue, including education programmes. As a follow-up to the successful practice of informal meetings between BRICS Energy Agencies representatives on the sidelines of the relevant G20 mechanisms' meetings, the VTC participants discussed opportunities for further enhancing coordination between BRICS countries on energy issues on international fora, including the UN, the G20 and the World Energy Council. ,The 4th Meeting of Working Group on Energy Saving and Energy Efficiency was held on the second day of the meetings. The participants shared latest information on the government policies of BRICS countries on energy efficiency and discussed opportunities for technological cooperation and joint action to popularize energy efficient solutions among the populations of the BRICS countries.

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