Information Bulletin of the BRICS Trade Union Forum

Monitoring of the economic, social and labor situation in the BRICS countries
Issue 5.2024
2024.01.29 — 2024.02.04
International relations
Foreign policy in the context of BRICS
BRICS Agenda for Digital Sovereignty (Повестка дня БРИКС в области цифрового суверенитета) / Russia, January, 2024
Keywords: digital, expert_opinion

With Russia chairing BRICS this year, there is added urgency to the relevant avenues of international cooperation in ICT security and digital sovereignty within the bloc. The BRICS nations, being the "hawks of sovereignty", are shaping digital space governance on the basis of their respect for sovereignty and non-interference in domestic affairs in the digital space. Above all, this has to do with content regulation on the Internet. BRICS have a significant potential for coordinating the foreign policy of its member states as well as the development of common principles and approaches to the realization of digital sovereignty at the UN level. BRICS also makes it possible to ensure the scaling of the common approach through involving the developing nations in cooperation and extending the rules and standards in the domain of digital sovereignty to countries of the Global Majority.

Priorities for digital cooperation in BRICS

Elena Zinovieva, Bai Yajie:
Digital Sovereignty in Russia and China
BRICS currently comprises a quartet of its founding members: Brazil, Russia, India and China, with South Africa joining them in 2011. The five new permanent members were now invited to join at the Johannesburg summit in August 2023, namely Egypt, Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Ethiopia.

Digital cooperation is one of the critical and most sought-after issues within BRICS. The agenda had taken shape as an independent area by 2015 through the efforts of Russia, whose initiatives in the field of international information security were not limited to BRICS but also have been supported at the UN level for many years. In 2015, the first meeting of BRICS communications ministers was held in Moscow, where the priorities of multilateral ICT collaboration were articulated for the first time. The list of priorities included economic issues, diversification of the global software and IT equipment market, as well as political interaction, primarily cooperation in international information security.

Over the past years, the agenda for digital cooperation in BRICS has acquired a pronounced focus on infrastructure and digital security. The former area, prioritizing issues related to the development of digital infrastructure and advanced industries (communications, cloud computing, artificial intelligence, etc.), has largely been consolidated under China's influence, which has come up with a number of initiatives due to the desire to strengthen its position as a leading center of power in the digital space. In 2022, China set the goal of forming a community of common destiny in cyberspace, which implies respect for digital sovereignty, and ensuring information security as a key to the successful development of digital initiatives.

The issue of international information security has been firmly entrenched on BRICS agenda through Russia's efforts (Moscow initiates discussions on this topic at the global level, too). A striking example is the Russian presidency in 2020, when the BRICS Anti-Terrorism Strategy was adopted, which directly enshrined "countering the spread of extremist ideas that lead to terrorism, including the use of the Internet and social networks by terrorists for the purposes of recruitment, radicalization and incitement, as well as for providing material and financial support to terrorists" among the priority measures. The Strategy also emphasized "tighter collaboration in combating the use of information and communication technologies for terrorism and other criminal goals." A year later, under the Indian Chairmanship, these priorities were reinforced by the Counter-Terrorism Action Plan where the five member states agreed to strengthen cooperation in countering the criminal misuse of ICTs and the Internet, and in particular to enhance common capabilities of analyzing information that circulates online, as well as in a number of other areas. Two cooperation priorities stand out in ensuring international information security: coordination of the external policies pursued by the member states to promote this agenda within the UN (this includes digital sovereignty) and institutionalization of the collaboration, which is implemented primarily via BRICS anti-terrorist agenda.

Therefore, ensuring state sovereignty in the ICT environment is part of the broader BRICS digital agenda, with the main focus on international information security.

Digital sovereignty in BRICS discussions

Over the past decade, digital sovereignty has become a central element of political discussions, quite so due to Russia's proactive foreign policy in the sphere of information security. Various threats to information security have become an important impetus for making national digital sovereignty more robust. In recent years, most countries have been amping up their influence in the information space. There is consensus at the public opinion level in most countries and regions that sovereignty and state power are necessary to protect "vital goods" ranging from security to prosperity, cultural rules and control in the information sphere. As a result, citizens expect their governments to protect their online privacy and fight online-spread misinformation and cybercrime, which requires an enhanced digital sovereignty.

The notion of sovereignty, understood politically as the power held by a governing body rejecting any interference from external sources or bodies, originates from the Latin word superanus, which means "over" or "supreme". While the traditional theory of sovereignty proposed in the 16th century by the French political philosopher Jean Bodin zeroed in on the power of the ruler to make final decisions, Jean-Jacques Rousseau modified this concept to mean popular sovereignty rather than monarchical sovereignty; over time, though, it has come to be increasingly associated with democracy, rule of law, and territoriality. Sovereignty implies the independence of the state vis-à-vis other states (external sovereignty) as well as its supreme authority over all powers and actors within the country borders (internal sovereignty).

Anastasia Tolstukhina:Russia's Global Information Security Initiatives
In the broadest sense, digital sovereignty can be defined as an independence of a state in the digital sphere and its ability to implement the information policy of its own choice domestically and internationally. Digital sovereignty currently entails control over the communications and Internet infrastructure within the state borders, independence both in software and platform economics, which implies the presence of national search engines, social network services, postal services, etc. in a given country. Furthermore, the most important element of modern digital sovereignty is data sovereignty, i.e. the ability to store and process data in the country's territory under national jurisdiction or, if the data are stored outside the country, the extension of national legislation to issues of their processing, storage and transfer to third parties. The successful realization of digital sovereignty requires a strong legislative component, i.e. the existence of a national legal framework to regulate the sphere of social relations arising from the use of digital technologies. In addition, the most important component of digital sovereignty is participation of a country in international cooperation, the development of standards and principles in this area at the level of regional and global structures.

The BRICS nations consistently coordinate their foreign policy positions and vote in a similar manner on international information security and the protection of digital sovereignty as a new principle of international law in the UN. The BRICS member states support the UN Convention on International Information Security and the Future UN Convention on Countering the Use of ICTs for Criminal Purposes, proposed by Russia. Both documents are based on respect for the principle of state sovereignty in the digital environment; in particular, it is noted that "the sovereign right of each state to ensure the security of the national information space, to establish norms and mechanisms for managing its information and cultural space in accordance with national legislation" is a fundamental principle of international cooperation in the field of information security. Thus, a special emphasis in the sphere of digital sovereignty is placed on the issues of non-interference in the internal affairs of nation states or content control in the national segment of the Internet.

Challenges for collaboration inside BRICS to ensure digital sovereignty

Despite the obvious success in shaping a unified approach to the international legal regulation of the digital sovereignty principle, it is hardly possible to speak of any unity of priorities in the field of digital development within BRICS. As a consequence, there are also some differences in approaches to promoting digital sovereignty in the practice of international relations. The latter are due to a significant difference in the level of digital advancement of the BRICS member states. The highest complementarity is observed in the positions of Russia and China, which are actively building up state presence in the digital realm, being guided by security considerations. Close enough to the Russia-China duo is India, which has recently adopted legislative measures designed to limit the circulation of anti-government materials in the digital space, including on Western platforms. These three nations are justifiably claiming the role of leaders, centers of power in the global digital space.

Some members of the Five Founders are objectively lagging behind the world leaders in some areas, such as the number of households connected to the Internet, as well as the total number of users of the Worldwide Web [1]. They have less developed breakthrough digital technologies and inferior digital infrastructure. South Africa and Brazil primarily focus on the applied aspects of bridging the digital divide, on infrastructure development and access to technology. They are willing to support initiatives in the sovereignty of cyberspace governance and information security, but this is not the main focus of their policies in this area, in contrast to capacity buildup.

The difference in approach is evident in the regulation and control of information circulating in the national segment of the Internet. State presence in the regulation of online information in Brazil and South Africa is rather limited. For Brazil, one can also note a more loyal attitude to digital security initiatives proposed by the U.S. and the EU. This is partly due to the historically strong influence of the U.S. in Latin America. Brazil is a party to the Council of Europe's Budapest Convention, which is seen by Russia, China, and South Africa as contradicting the principle of state sovereignty. Brazil has often taken a hesitant stance, supporting both Russian and Western initiatives. To a large extent, this approach was caused by policy specifics of the Bolsonaro administration, and it is likely that after a change of government the rapprochement between Brazil and Russia in this area will be picking up steam.

Prospects for digital sovereignty cooperation

Elena Zinovieva:
International Information Security in US-Russian Bilateral Relations
Assessing the prospects for cooperation among the BRICS member states in the area of digital sovereignty suggests the need to take into account the association's enlargement. In Johannesburg last year, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran and Egypt were invited to join BRICS. The composition of the BRICS member states has become a lot more diverse, both in terms of geography and willingness to interact. BRICS have historically clearly adhered to the principle of consensus in multilateral decision-making, the absence of any reservations in the text of the final documents adopted at the summit level being the best evidence. This is something the G20 cannot boast of (for example, in 2019, the U.S. refused to sign up to a common decision on the implementation of the 2015 Paris Climate Agreement, motivating its move by the fact that it runs contrary to the interests of American businesses and taxpayers). To date, BRICS have never adopted any resolutions that would include reservations by one of its members, which is especially important in the context of the association's regional security decisions. The latter are often addressed to regions and countries that are geographically distant from the member states.

The new BRICS members carry with them the burden of bilateral and internal contradictions. These include the ongoing conflict between Egypt and Ethiopia over the use of the Blue Nile water resources; the armed standoff in Ethiopia's Tigray region; the new leadership of Argentina's refusal of the invitation to join BRICS; the long-brewing row between Argentina and Iran over the 1994 terrorist attack on the Argentine Jewish Cultural Center and the economic crisis in Argentina itself, as well as only recently normalized relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran. BRICS has a positive experience of overcoming contradictions in pursuit of common benefits, as was the case in the process of establishing the New Development Bank of BRICS. Yet, this decision was taken in a completely different environment and required the harmonization of interests of a much smaller number of parties involved. Against this background, there are negative expectations regarding the viability of the consensus-based decision-making system.

One can assume that after the inevitable stage of integrating the new BRICS members into the established patterns of interaction, cooperation within the bloc will return to its usual course. Especially as regards the multilateral decision-making mechanism, we can expect that the Russian-Chinese approach to digital sovereignty will be further fostered in BRICS, although the main focus is likely to be on infrastructure. On the other hand, given the expected accession of Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Iran, whose stances on online content regulation seem rather rigid at first glance, we can expect more cooperation in this area as well. The assertion that the enlarged BRICS will make progress in deepening the cooperation to counter online terrorism and extremism is also not unfounded – this agenda seems relevant to all member states at first approximation.

It can hardly be denied that the BRICS expansion stands to benefit the bloc's image. The inclusion of developing nations in the forum's membership reinforces the image of BRICS as a representative of the Global South on the world stage. By overcoming the inevitable challenge of involving new member states in the joint work, an enlarged BRICS is likely to become more influential in terms of soft power at its disposal, allowing for greater legitimization of multilaterally agreed solutions. This will be achieved by enlisting the support of the developing world, including in sensitive areas of cooperation such as the realization of digital sovereignty.

BRICS has made progress in consolidating positions on combating terrorism and extremism in the digital space, as well as on developing a digital governance regime based on respect for state sovereignty. Cooperation in the development of digital communications infrastructure seems to be a promising area, which is likely to receive additional support from the newly invited members of the forum, as well as from China. In the meantime, deeper collaboration in bridging the digital divide can also boost cooperation at the level of foreign policy coordination, including in the area of digital sovereignty and international information security. In this context, information security is seen as an important condition for successful digital development.

Some concerns are related to the ability of the enlarged BRICS to uphold the consensus-based decision-making mechanism that has been developed over more than a decade of effective interaction as a competitive advantage of the grouping. The BRICS enlargement creates positive expectations in regard to the scaling of digital sovereignty solutions, as well as the latter's acceptance by countries outside the association, mainly due to the involvement of developing nations.

1. Russia can be regarded as an exception here. Among the Big Five partners, it demonstrates good performance on all major lines of comparison. Russia's competitive edge is the relatively low cost of Internet connections, while the problem of digital communications infrastructure development mainly boils down to the plight of remote regions to gain adequate access to digital technologies.

                BRICS Holds Diverse Potential Support For Africa (БРИКС предлагает разнообразную потенциальную поддержку Африке) / Russia, February, 2024
                Keywords: quotation, expert_opinion, cooperation

                As stipulated by the guidelines, Russia takes over the rotating chairmanship of BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) from January 2024. There are high hopes a lot more will change, especially towards widening its numerical strength and increase support for the Global South. In addition, there is also the expectation that BRICS will consolidate its role within the emerging geopolitical processes and global competition for Africa. China and Russia are currently making efforts to assert influence more aggressively, despite the challenges and obstacles, in cooperating with Africa.

                According to authentic reports, a number of African countries such as Algeria, Angola, DR Congo, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Nigeria, Senegal, Sudan, Tunisia, Uganda and Zimbabwe have expressed interest in joining BRICS. Egypt and Ethiopia have gained full-fledged membership in BRICS during the last summit held Johannesburg, South Africa.

                In this interview, Kester Kenn Komegah attempted to find out more about the future relationship of BRICS with Africa, and aspects of Russia's policy towards Africa from Yaroslav Lissovolik, who is the founder of BRICS+ Analytics – a think-tank that explores the potential of the BRICS+ format in the global economy. Lissovolik, previously worked as chief economist and head of research in Deutsche Bank Russia, the Eurasian Development Bank as well as Sberbank. He also worked as an Advisor to Russia's Executive Director in the International Monetary Fund. Here are excerpts of our wide-ranging discussion:-

                Q: As Russia prepares to take over the rotating chairmanship of BRICS group in January 2024, what are some of the expectations?

                Yaroslav Lissovolik: The expectation is that Russia will likely pursue a broad agenda with closer connectivity of BRICS to Africa being one of its key items. one of the possible directions in Russia's chairmanship may be the path of «integration of integrations» — the creation of a cooperation platform for the regional organizations of the Global South such as the Eurasian Economic Union and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) as well as BRICS. This may be complemented by efforts to add more economic weight to the BRICS grouping via developing the payment mechanisms within BRICS to conduct settlements in national currencies. There may also be the continuation of the BRICS expansion process with possible further steps to expand the core as well as to create a group of BRICS partners from among the leading members of the developing world community.

                Q: Can China and Russia (both BRICS members) halt the current U.S. global dominance? What mechanisms are available for effecting this process?

                Lissovolik: Within BRICS both China and Russia will likely cooperate towards creating those financial and economic mechanisms that are lacking in the global economy. The purpose of BRICS is not to undermine any economy, but to create cooperative platforms for economic cooperation among developing countries. In fact, the BRICS and BRICS+ formats may in the future be complemented by what I called the BRICS++ format that could include the participation of developed economies, regional blocs and their development institutions. My view is that BRICS will develop along a path of becoming the most inclusive and open platform in the global economy that may serve as the basis for a revitalized and more sustainable globalization effort. Such a platform may with time include the participation of the Bretton Woods institutions and other key players of the global economy from the Western world.

                Overall, there are not too many economic mechanisms created thus far by the BRICS — the main economic contribution of the BRICS has been the creation of the New Development Bank (NDB) and the BRICS Contingent Reserve Arrangement (CRA). The BRICS NDB is set to expand its membership to include more developing economies. There are also plans within BRICS to widen the mandate of the BRICS CRA to make it more effective in supporting member countries. What is lacking at this stage is a financial mechanism that would facilitate the payments in national currencies among the BRICS economies — discussions on the creation of such a mechanism (widely referred to as BRICS Pay) have been ongoing since at least 2017, but progress in this area has been moderate at best. Furthermore, the issue of the creation of a common currency or an accounting unit for all BRICS countries has also progressed slowly.

                Q: What are your views about the key challenges confronting BRICS in pursuit of leading the emerging reconfiguration and new political and economic architecture?

                Lissovolik: The main challenges facing the BRICS grouping have to do with a lack of an ambitious economic agenda. Thus far the strong momentum exhibited by BRICS on the international stage is mostly political/geopolitical as reflected in the sizeable number of developing countries expressing their desire to join the grouping. This widening of the ranks of the BRICS bloc renders the attainment of consensus even more difficult — something that will be critical in adopting decisions on economic cooperation. And on the economic front there are still a lot of issues that are yet to be addressed — apart from the financial track related to the common payment systems and a potential common currency/accounting unit, another crucial theme is trade liberalization among the BRICS economies and across the economies of the Global South more broadly. The BRICS need an ambitious trade liberalization agenda that would favour developing economies, especially Africa. At this stage, import tariffs in BRICS countries are relatively high, especially on agricultural products — there is significant scope for the BRICS economies to lower trade barriers to support the modernization of Africa and other regions of the Global South.

                Q: There has been much talk on Global South, and Africa is geographically located there. What are Africa's weaknesses and strengths in this rising multipolarity?

                Lissovolik: One of the most significant strengths wielded by Africa on the international stage is its rising solidarity and rising coordination of the continent's economies on the international stage. This is vividly exemplified by the rising prominence of the African Union (AU) in some of the key international fora. The AU in 2023 became a member of the G20, while also becoming increasingly active in international mediation efforts and discussions on economic cooperation with other regional blocs. The AU has been also successful in advancing the project of Africa's regional integration via the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA). Again, the best way in which the BRICS could contribute towards the success of this regional integration project is via greater trade openness to African economies. The success of the AfCFTA would go a long way towards overcoming the limitations faced by Africa's economy in terms of low intra-continental regional connectivity and trade.

                Q: Let finally talk about the some specific tangible roles Africa could play in the geopolitical changes and process? Do you think African Union also need some urgent reforms to perform effectively

                Lissovolik: In my view, Africa could play a crucial role in the coming years both at the level of the developing world and globally. In particular, the African Union given its membership in the G20 and South Africa's presidency in the G20 in 2025 could launch important initiatives aimed at boosting the resiliency of the global economy. One such initiative could involve the creation of a platform for regional blocs such as the AU, MERCOSUR, ASEAN, EU and other blocs in which G20 countries are members. Such a platform for regional arrangements could be launched as a G20 engagement group, the R20 or regional 20 — in effect it would represent a new level of global governance formed by regional integration arrangements and their development institutions. Thus far there is no mechanism for a horizontal coordination of regional integration groups and their development institutions in the world economy. A similar effort could be undertaken by the African Union within the realm of the Global South — the AU could lead the establishment of economic linkages with other regional blocs from the developing world, including MERCOSUR, SCO, EAEU and ASEAN. Such a platform could serve as a basis for an expanded BRICS+ circle that would encompass the majority of developing economies.

                In the longer term, the AU could also participate in the reconstruction and the reform of the main global institutions and fora such as the WTO, the G20 and the UN Security Council. With respect to both the WTO there may be a case for the African Union becoming a member of this organization, just like it did in the case of the G20 alongside the EU as a regional bloc. In this scenario, the AU could represent the developing world in both the WTO and the G20 with initiatives countering protectionism and beggar-thy-neighbour policies that have become so prevalent over the course of the past decade. As the role of the AU gains traction in the world economy, there may be a stronger case for Africa's greater representation in the UN governing bodies such as the UN Security Council.

                Overall, the main potential for Africa and the African Union in my view lies in pursuing the path of «integration of integrations», i.e. the building of cooperative linkages and platforms between Africa's regional integration projects and development institutions with regional peers elsewhere in the world economy. This process of greater cooperation among the regional integration blocs is only starting and the African Union could lead this important process that opens up new communication lines and possibilities for cooperation in the world economy.

                              Africa within the expanded BRICS (Африка в расширенном БРИКС) / Russia, January, 2024
                              Keywords: brics+, expert_opinion

                              As the BRICS expansion is set to further unfold in the course of this year, one of the important implications of this process is the rising role of Africa within the grouping. While in quantitative terms Africa's share of BRICS membership has risen appreciably, its qualitative role in some of the key tracks of BRICS development is even more important. This is the case in particular in such critical areas of economic development as migration, human capital development, sustainable resource management, trade liberalization and coordination among regional integration blocs led by BRICS economies. In some of these tracks, such as trade liberalization, Africa has a more ambitious agenda than most of the other regions of the Global South, something that is further magnified by Africa's rising stature on the international stage as exemplified by last year's accession of the African Union as a full-fledged member of the G20.

                              Within the emerging dialogue among the regional blocs and organizations of the Global South on trade liberalization, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is set to play a critical role. In particular, Enoch Godongwana, South Africa's Finance Minister, in the beginning of 2024 stated that South Africa would champion the tenets of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) within the expanded BRICS grouping. This is a very important declaration that opens the possibility of taking the BRICS+ cooperation to the level of regional integration arrangements. In particular, the creation of a circle of economic cooperation among the main regional integration blocks uniting the expanded BRICS economies could include MERCOSUR (Brazil), SCO (China, Iran) as well as UAE and Saudi Arabia (members of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC)), Eurasian Economic Union (Russia) as well as the African Union and the AfCFTA (Ethiopia, Egypt, South Africa). The AfCFTA platform could play a key role in the South-South trade liberalization process as among the main regional blocs of the Global South the African Union/AfCFTA has the greatest representation in the expanded BRICS+ core (three core members of the African Union/AfCFTA are also core members of the expanded BRICS+).

                              The importance of Africa in the evolving cooperation among the regional integration blocs of the developing world is closely linked to its key role with respect to the trade liberalization impulses across BRICS+. This is because trade policy among BRICS members is largely driven by their respective regional integration groups, which in the case of South Africa, Ethiopia and Egypt are represented by the AfCFTA and the African Union. In addition, Russia and Brazil are also pursuing their trade accords through their regional arrangements – the Eurasian Economic Union (EAEU) and MERCOSUR respectively. This is also the case in part with the UAE and Saudi Arabia that are jointly forging FTA accords via the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), though in recent years there were signs that the UAE also opted to pursue economic and trade accords on its own[1]. With the majority of expanded BRICS members pursuing trade agreements either entirely or partly via their respective regional trade blocs, the case for creating a BRICS+ platform for regional integration arrangements has arguably become stronger after the latest expansion phase. The scope for trade liberalization within such a platform is sizeable (given how high import tariffs on agricultural goods are across South-South trade), with more open markets for Africa's exports being the most important potential contribution of BRICS to the success of AfCFTA.

                              Another important track for BRICS where Africa's role is critical is human capital development and migration. Two new BRICS members – Ethiopia and Egypt – are among the largest sources of migration flows from Africa, while South Africa is a key recipient of migrant resources on the African continent. Africa as a whole will deliver the largest contribution to global population growth in the coming decades, with its share in global population expected to reach a quarter by 2050 and 40% by 2100[2]. Furthermore, 13 out of 20 largest cities in the world by 2100 are to be concentrated in Africa, including all of the top-3 positions in this ranking[3]. Among the top-10 most populous economies of the world in 2100 half are projected by the United Nations to come from Africa[4]. All these figures suggest that the BRICS+ framework and the New Development Bank (NDB) need to accord greater priority to issues such as human capital development and migration in the context of building the group's cooperation with the African continent.

                              In the end, the development of the BRICS+ platform together with AfCFTA is an opportunity for the African continent to play a leading role in the Global South on such important tracks as trade liberalization and cooperation among regional integration arrangements. A prosperous Africa is the key to the world economy successfully addressing global issues such as sustainable resource management, poverty reduction and human capital development. Indeed, the success of the BRICS enterprise and its contribution to global welfare will depend crucially on the ability of the group to unlock the development potential harbored in Africa.

                              Image by ean254 via Pixabay


                              [2] Andrew Stanley. African century. Finance and Development. September 2023, pp. 16-17



                                            Egypt participates in BRICS countries meeting in Moscow (Египет участвует во встрече стран БРИКС в Москве) / Egypt, February, 2024
                                            Keywords: brics+, summit

                                            Egyptian Deputy Foreign Minister and head of the country's delegation in BRICS, Ambassador Ragui Al-Etrebi, accompanied by Egypt's Ambassador to Russia Nazih El-Nagari, participated in the BRICS member states meeting held in the Russian capital, Moscow, on Wednesday.

                                            According to an official statement by the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Egypt called for strengthening cooperation and coordination among member states.

                                            Egypt is participating in this meeting for the first time as a full member, according to Al-Etrebi, who noted that this meeting is the first in a series of meetings and events organised by the Russian chairmanship of BRICS during 2024 to discuss cooperation in various fields.

                                            He added that this meeting comes after the founding countries of BRICS invited several nations to become members of the group, including Egypt, the UAE, Iran, and Ethiopia.

                                            Furthermore, Al-Etrebi stressed that Egypt's membership aligns with its strategic role and contributions to promoting peace and development, regionally and internationally.

                                            He also pointed out the many opportunities provided by the Egyptian economy to attract investments from BRICS countries and advance mutual trade exchange, noting that as a member of the BRICS, Egypt focuses on advancing industrial transformation efforts and enhancing cooperation in the fields of energy, food security, technology transfer, and logistics.

                                            Moreover, Al-Etrebi said that during the meeting, the Russian chairmanship of the BRICS reviewed the main features of the action plan it prepared for the current year, leading up to the 16th BRICS summit, scheduled to be held in October 2024 in Kazan in Russia.

                                            He also pointed out that Egypt's vision for enhancing cooperation and coordination among BRICS countries received massive support.

                                            According to Al-Etrebi, Egypt's vision focused on supporting coordination mechanisms to reform the global economic system and increasing the representation of developing countries in international financial and monetary frameworks.

                                            Furthermore, Egypt advocated for strengthening the ties between BRICS countries and the African continent, establishing institutional links among the bodies concerned with investment in BRICS countries, and working to develop payment systems between the group's countries in national currencies.

                                            Russia became the chairmanship of the BRICS group in January 2024. During its 15th summit in South Africa in August 2023, the group expanded its membership to include ten countries.

                                                          Paul Craig Roberts: "We will be very lucky to escape a US attack on Iran" (Пол Крейг Робертс: «Нам очень повезет, если мы избежим нападения США на Иран») / Russia, February, 2024
                                                          Keywords: expert_opinion, political_issues

                                                          The GEOFOR editorial board asked Paul Craig Roberts (photo), Chairman of the Institute for Political Economy (USA), a PhD in Economics and US Undersecretary of Treasury in the Reagan administration, to give his assessment of the prospects for confrontation between Israel and Hamas, the likelihood of war between the United States and Iran, as well as the future of BRICS and the constitutional crisis in the US.

                                                          GEOFOR: In your publications you point to the need for a mutual defense treaty between Russia, China and Iran. What practical benefits do you see from such an alliance? The possibility of preventing a U.S. strike on Iran, either directly or with the help of Israel? And how realistic do you see the trilateral alliance in the current environment? Especially since Beijing has for decades avoided making such a commitment.

                                                          Paul Craig Roberts: The conflict between Israel and Hamas has already widened to Israel vs. Hamas and Hezbollah, to the US/UK vs. Houthis, and now with the attack on a US base in Jordan to the prospect of a US attack on Iran or on Iranian officials. We will be very lucky to escape a US attack on Iran. Israel, which has extraordinary influence on US policy in the Middle East, has been pushing Washington for many years to attack Iran. Such an attack has the support of the majority of the US Congress and is fervently desired by Israel's neoconservative allies, such as Victoria Nuland, who hold powerful positions in the US government. It would require a miracle for a US attack on Iran not to start a major war from which Russia and China could not stand aside.

                                                          My conclusion is that proactive action is necessary to prevent an attack on Iran that would likely ignite a major world confrontation. A mutual defense treaty announced by Russia, China, and Iran would prevent an attack on Iran. The US, Israel, and NATO do not have the capability of fighting a war against three powerful countries. Without such an alliance, the determination of Israel and Israel's neoconservative allies in Washington to expand Israel's borders by removing Iran's financial and military support for Hezbollah and the Houthis will result in a strike on Iran. It is what everyone in Washington wants, except the US military, but the decision will not be made by the military.

                                                          GEOFOR: What is your vision of the bilateral comprehensive Russian-Iranian treaty, which will obviously include a defense component. Can it be seen as a step in the direction we have been talking about? Is it possible for China to join it?

                                                          Paul Craig Roberts: The question you raise is whether the pact between Russia and Iran will fill this need. There is little news available to me about this pact. I have not seen any description of it on the English language Russian news services such as RT and Sputnik. I have not seen discussion of it even in the alternative media. Has this pact been concluded? Does it have a defense component or is one only implied? It seems that the pact was announced before it was concluded and in place, which would be an incentive for the US to strike Iran now. The pact has not received sufficient attention to make a US attack on Iran look like a mindless and reckless policy. There is no foreign policy discussion in the US about this pact or its meaning.

                                                          It other words, it is another Putin low-key response suggesting that nothing threatening is really meant by the pact. Only this time there are no 8 years to wait out the Minsk Agreement. No time remains for Putin to take his slow steps. What is needed, immediately in my view, is a highly publicized joint press conference of Putin, Xi, and the Iranian leader that a mutual defense treaty is in effect and that an attack on one is an attack on all. Such a proactive action would stop in its tracks the US/Israeli move to widen the war.

                                                          You ask about China whose government prefers words to actions. Watching Washington stir the Taiwan pot must cause Xi to realize that Washington is abandoning the One China policy announced in 1979, just as Washington abandoned the promise made to Gorbachev that "NATO will not move one inch to the East." The foreign policy of Washington's neoconservatives is American hegemony. The one sure thing that can discredit this policy and make it too ridiculous to continue is a highly publicized public announcement of a Russian/Chinese/Iranian Mutual Defense Treaty. The multipolar world that Putin is always talking about cannot materialize without such a treaty.

                                                          GEOFOR: In recent times, large-scale alliances are becoming more and more frequent on the agenda. In this context, we cannot but ask how do you see the prospects of BRICS, especially as it has grown considerably since this year and, judging by a number of reports, in 2024 we may hear again about the likely accession of new members? How much of a blow to the organization was Argentina's decision not to join BRICS after Javier Milei came to power? Will BRICS be able to compete with the G20?

                                                          Paul Craig Roberts: Argentina's decision has zero affect on BRICS. I am not saying that this is the case for Argentina, but Russia should understand that most governments are corrupt and that Washington will pay government officials not to join BRICS.

                                                          BRICS is a Russian-led effort for countries to get out from under Washington's control of their economic and foreign policies. The EU countries have locked themselves into Washington's control. Countries in South America and Africa, due to the corruption of their politicians, have sold out to Washington for money and thereby avoid punishments and overthrows. The real question is how long will Washington be able to continue purchasing so much of the world.

                                                          Washington's purchase of governments is what BRICS is supposed to end by creating an alternative financial mechanism for international trade that is not exploitative. BRICS success depends on how proactive Russia and China are in preventing Washington from starting more wars. It makes no sense for two powerful countries to leave the initiative in Washington's hands.

                                                          GEOFOR: And traditionally, we cannot ignore the United States, where, apparently, the electoral struggle has intensified after the events in Texas. What consequences, in your opinion, can such events lead to?

                                                          Paul Craig Roberts: "President" Joe Biden, who is in office only through electoral fraud, has committed high treason against the United States of America. He should be arrested and tried for high treason against the United States.

                                                          The US Constitution requires Biden to protect US borders. Instead he has worked consistently to prevent the protection of the borders and to leave them wide open for millions of immigrant-invaders, now numbered by the latest account at 22 million invaders.

                                                          Article IV, section 4 of the US Constitution requires the federal government to protect each state against invasion. This the Biden regime has steadfastly refused to do, instead aiding and abetting the immigrant-invaders who are overrunning Texas and other states. Without any doubt, the Biden regime has broken the contract between the federal and state governments. Biden has openly invited civil war by repeating Abraham Lincoln's violation of the Constitutional contract between the federal government and the states. Whereas Lincoln only targeted the Southern states, Biden has violated his responsibility to all states. Under Biden's open border policy, even blue cities, such as Denver, are crying for help against the immigrant-invaders that the federal government is aiding and abetting.

                                                          In response to the federal government's refusal to protect American borders, Texas governor Greg Abbott has taken steps to defend Texas' border. Twenty-five other governors have backed him, some offering to send their state national guard to the defense of Texas. The Democrats will accuse Texas of "insurrection," a charge that allows them to federalize the Texas National Guard and to move to take federal political control of Texas.

                                                          In other words, to be clear, the traitorous Biden regime has firmly and completely aligned itself with foreign invaders against American citizens. Such open high treason is complete evidence that the real enemy of the American people is Washington.

                                                          But the American people are helpless. They have no media to hold the government accountable. They suffer under a lie factory that provides disinformation in support of the official narratives that only serve the agendas of the ruling elite.

                                                          What is happening to America is that the Democrats and the Woke intellectuals are creating a tyranny out of a Constitutional Republic in which the people have no voice. Therefore, there is no internal constraint on the neoconservatives' reckless policy of American Hegemony.

                                                          It is the neoconservative hegemonic policy, which implies more aggression, and the avoidance of "involvement" by Russia, China, and Iran that are leading to nuclear Armageddon. As long as there are no obstacles to Washington's aggression, it will continue.

                                                                        A Pivot to the East and the Islamic Dimension of Russia's Foreign Policy (Поворот на Восток и исламское измерение внешней политики России) / Russia, February, 2024
                                                                        Keywords: expert_opinion

                                                                        The year of 2023 may well have been a year of further consolidation of Russia's pivot to the East, especially in the Middle East and across the South, as well as to the Islamic world. Amid the pressure of Western sanctions, Moscow managed not only to retain its positions in the Islamic world but also to boost its bilateral ties with Muslim states, many of which are essentially becoming Russia's non-alternative partners in the current environment. Ties with these nations can now be directly referred to as the Islamic focus in Russia's foreign policy.

                                                                        The development of multifaceted cooperation with the Islamic nations has an economic dimension, too, specifically given a dramatic surge in trade turnover. Cooperation with Turkey and Iran has reached an unprecedentedly high level. The same applies to the ties with Algeria, Egypt, Qatar, the UAE, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other Muslim states. Moscow is also intensifying its contacts with other countries that previously stayed "in the background" of Russia's policy, such as the Sultanate of Oman, which is also turning into a significant partner for Russia both in foreign policy and in economy.

                                                                        Throughout 2023, Russia has also maintained the status quo in conflict zones, primarily in Syria and Libya, despite the diversion of significant forces and resources to Ukraine. During the past year, Moscow managed to avoid a full-scale military action and prevent new military operations on the Syrian soil, which is also a positive trend contributing to a remarkable progress in building its relationship with those Muslim states whose interests overlap with Russia's aspirations. First and foremost, we mean Iran and Turkey, as well as Qatar and Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Iraq.

                                                                        Time-proven cooperation

                                                                        Russia has successfully resisted attempts of the Collective West to drive a wedge between Moscow and the Islamic states, while the friendly attitude of Muslim countries towards Russia, even when purportedly isolated by the West, only confirms the need to cherish and foster these ties, highlighting the historical priorities of Russia's collaboration with the Islamic world.

                                                                        The Eastern partners turned out to be great pragmatists and stood their ground despite Western pressure. The same cannot be said of some Western nations, which failed to say a firm national and sovereign "no" to pressure, to the detriment of their own interests, given the clear advantages of their engagement with Russia. Perhaps the notion of honor, support and assistance, historical contacts and ties turned out to be more important for the Eastern partners than for the so-called civilized Western nations, which, unfortunately, are moving further away from Christian values and precepts.

                                                                        Russia's ties with the Muslim world are a time-tested, trust-based cooperation, with the Islamic dimension always present in the country's foreign policy. Suffice it to recall the repeated petitions of the Muslim Sultanate of Aceh in Sumatra (now part of Indonesia) to the Russian Empire in the late 19th century, as it aspired to become a subject of the Russian Empire. This clearly shows that many Muslims viewed the "Russian Padishah" as a ruler and defender of Muslims. This is exactly how Saint Petersburg tried to position itself in the eyes of Muslims the world over.

                                                                        The first round of rapprochement with the Islamic world that marked the beginning of modern Russia's pivot to the East, that far very cautious, occurred in the midst of the Second Chechen Campaign, when Moscow could convince the Islamic world that it was not opposed to it, being its integral part instead. This has laid a solid foundation for a mutually beneficial partnership, during the Special Military Operation (SMO) and the final consolidation of the pivot to the East in Russia's foreign policy as one of the top priorities.

                                                                        Russia and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation – 20 years together

                                                                        October 2023 marked, in fact, the 20-year milestone since the famous speech of President Vladimir Putin at the 10th Meeting of Heads of State and Government of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (now the Organization of Islamic Cooperation—OIC). At that point, the Russian leader stated: "We know that the overwhelming majority of the OIC member states supported our initiative to develop relations with the OIC. And we see this as not just a gesture, but a far-sighted and strategically oriented decision." The participation of such a high-ranked delegation resulted in the granting of observer member status to Russia on June 30, 2005 at the OIC Foreign Ministers' Conference in Sana'a. This event helped Moscow cement its own positions in the countries of the Islamic world, diversifying its contacts and relying on its Muslim partners in the current most challenging times.

                                                                        From that moment, Russia could again be considered part of the Islamic world, as the Russian president, speaking at the OIC meeting and on behalf of Russian Muslims, said the following: "I am convinced that Russia's participation [in the OIC] will not only complement the bright palette of this Organization; it will add new opportunities to its activity, bringing the weight and voice of the large Russian Muslim community. A community that no longer separates itself from the world community of Muslims and is ready for fruitful participation in its spiritual, cultural and political life."

                                                                        It is noteworthy that the strengthening of Russia's position in the East is taking place in the midst of Western pressure, both then and now. At the time, it was the Chechen issue. Nevertheless, despite attempts by some of the most radical representatives of Islamic circles and local Western lobbyists to dilute the emerging partnership between Moscow and Islamic capitals by leveraging the Chechen issue, Muslim states remained committed to strengthening and developing relations with the Russian Federation, believing that private issues of disagreement should not outweigh the benefits that the Islamic world derives from its rapprochement with the Russian Federation.

                                                                        The vigorous efforts of Russian Muslim organizations and representatives of the Russian Islamic community at that stage made it possible to change the minds of leading Islamic scholars in their assessment of the situation in the Russian Caucasus. In particular, there was an indicative change in the position of remarkable Islamic figures such as Yusuf al-Qaradawi, the founding president of the International Union of Muslim Scholars. He initially supported the Ichkeria separatists, but during the International Peacemaking Forum "Islam: Religion of Peace and Creation", held in Grozny in May 2010, in his video address to the participants of that event, Sheikh Al-Qaradawi called on Chechens (those who did not lay down their arms) to keep the peace and consider themselves an integral part of the Russian Federation.

                                                                        After almost 20 years, our country's unwavering course of strengthening relations with the states of the Islamic world is bearing fruit, whereas the role of the Muslim community, Muslim regions and Islamic organizations of the Russian Federation in building and upholding those relations has only grown since then.

                                                                        In the meantime, the position of the countries in the Arab-Muslim world has remained unchanged—they continue to see Moscow as one of the centers in the multipolar world. Yet, the Muslim states have changed themselves, and they are now ready to distance themselves more boldly from certain actions of the Collective West, including those directed against Russia, and to look to Moscow as one of the pillars in building a new architecture of regional security.

                                                                        The Islamic World as a Priority Area of Russian Foreign Policy

                                                                        Notably, the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) is explicitly referred to in Russia's Foreign Policy Concept 2023 as the "Islamic World" (Section 56 of the document). Without a strong emphasis on the geographical name per se, the document breathes respect for the predominant Muslim population and strong religious traditions in this region; the MENA nations are described as "the states of the friendly Islamic civilization."

                                                                        The Islamic focus can also be seen in other recent decisions of the Russian leadership. Thus, the international economic platform in Kazan that had been known as Kazan Summit was transformed into the International Economic Summit Russia—Islamic World: Kazan Summit by the decree of the Russian President and is now supervised by Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Marat Khusnullin. It is intended to become the main platform for economic interaction between Russia and nations of the Islamic world; this is especially important in the context of growing Russian exports, programs to support export potential and cover new markets not only with traditional resources but also with technologies and educational programs. In turn, the Islamic Forum is linked to the Russia—Islamic World Strategic Vision Group, which is led by Governor of the Republic of Tatarstan, Rustam Minnikhanov.

                                                                        Separate mention should also be made of the adoption in July 2023 by the State Duma of the Russian Federation (in the first reading) of a draft law on the pilot implementation of Islamic banking, aimed at creating the necessary conditions for the implementation of partnership financing activities in certain constituent entities of the Russian Federation, with Dagestan, Chechnya, Bashkortostan and Tatarstan participating.

                                                                        Islamic nations are also offered to strengthen their sovereignty and to become another pole in the multipolar world through the BRICS platform, after the accession of Egypt, Iran, the UAE and Saudi Arabia to BRICS starting on January 1, 2024. Russia strongly supported and facilitated the BRICS enlargement. It is indicative that four of the five new BRICS members (aside from Ethiopia) are Muslim. Undoubtedly, the economic potential of the OIC member states will be extremely useful for strengthening the Eurasian Partnership also through their expected involvement in another integration structure of the new multipolar world—the SCO.

                                                                        It is quite remarkable that the active foreign policy season for the Russian President in 2023 was crowned by his visits to the United Arab Emirates and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, two centers of power and influence in the MENA region and the Islamic world. The negotiations with the Crown Prince of the Sultanate of Oman and the President of the Islamic Republic of Iran on Russian platforms are also worth mentioning.

                                                                        In this context, one cannot but pay attention to the fact that Iran, the UAE, Saudi Arabia and Oman are brought together by the Russian North-South project. This initiative that was launched as a Russian-Iranian endeavor is now attracting more and more participants, so in the future it may become a geopolitical project similar to China's "One Belt, One Road."

                                                                        Thus, Russia's geopolitical pivot to the South, towards the Islamic world and the Middle East, can be institutionalized within the framework of relevant geopolitical projects, whose sustainability should be buttressed by a solid economic platform.

                                                                        The soft power of Russian Islam

                                                                        A common feature in Vladimir Putin's recent meetings with the leaders of Muslim nations was inviting them to the BRICS summit in Kazan. The capital of Tatarstan has already become Russia's "window" to the Islamic world that turns it into the main hub for Moscow's interaction with Islamic capitals. It is indicative that Kazan will also host the first BRICS summit in a renewed composition, where 4 out of 5 new members are Muslim nations.

                                                                        The Chechen Republic is the region through which the networking between Russia and Middle Eastern states is being built. The personality of its head Ramzan Kadyrov, who accompanied Vladimir Putin in his trip to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, undoubtedly plays an important role here. The Chechen leader stayed in Saudi Arabia for at least another 24 hours. On December 6, he visited Mecca to perform the ritual of umrah—the small hajj. On December 7, he met with Saud bin Khalid bin Faisal, deputy governor of the region, in Medina.

                                                                        A 3D view of Russia's policy vis-a-vis the Islamic states is also an important task for those Russian regions whose residents and heads are Muslims. The interaction of these constituent entities of the Russian Federation with both the Islamic states and regions is of great importance. Hence Russia's posturing as an integral part of the Islamic world, rather than some kind of a "foreign element."

                                                                        Therefore, close interaction at the top, contacts at the level of governments, heads of state and regions create fertile ground for the development of public diplomacy at all levels and in all manifestations. Religious diplomacy traditionally plays a special part in Russia. It received a new impetus after the Russian president's speech at the OIC summit in 2003. Since then, the Russian Islamic clergy has risen to a new level of external contacts, close collaboration with other traditional denominations, the state and society.

                                                                        Given the context of the SMO, such diplomacy is especially relevant and important. A demand for it among Russia's Islamic partners, who have always shown interest in the Russian Muslim community, is also noteworthy. The implementation of various projects aimed at promoting inter-religious, intercultural dialogue and mutual understanding plays a very special role, consolidating the efforts to protect traditional spiritual and moral values and to fight Islamophobia, including through the OIC.

                                                                        Besides, since the start of the SMO, there has been a trend for stronger relations between the state and religious Muslim institutions, so the role of the Muslim factor has increased as a whole, which has been reflected in the international activities of Russia's Islamic bodies.

                                                                        In particular, the Spiritual Administration of Muslims of the Russian Federation (DUM RF) and the Council of Muftis of Russia, chaired by Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, are both engaged in a wide range of international activities, building fruitful and mutually beneficial relations with partners in Central Asia, the Middle East, Africa, South-East Asia, and Muslim communities around the world.

                                                                        The Quran recitation competition held in the Russian capital puts Moscow on a par with other centers of Islamic civilization—Istanbul, Rabat, Algeria, Tunisia, Cairo—where this competition is also held at the state level. World-class reciters, winners of national competitions, reciters from royal courts and the largest mosques of the Islamic world come to Moscow for several days to present skillful recitation of the Quran. The International Quran recitation competition was held under the auspices of His Majesty King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa of Bahrain, Chairman of the World Islamic League Sheikh Muhammad bin Abdul Karim Al Isa, and on several occasions the UAE leaders became the main partners of the event.

                                                                        The International Exhibition "Traditions of Islam in Russia"—organized under the auspices of the DUM of the Russian Federation in partnership with the Foreign Ministry of Russia, Rossotrudnichestvo and the Strategic Vision Group "Russia—Islamic World"—tours the Muslim capitals to let their residents get acquainted with the multi-confessional and multi-ethnic Russia. These countries include Brunei, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, UAE.

                                                                        In December 2023, the 19th International Muslim Forum was held in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque under the auspices of Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, Chairman of the DUM of the Russian Federation, which once again brought together prominent public, political and religious leaders, including Mufti of the Arab Republic of Egypt His Eminence Dr. Shawki Allam, Algerian Minister of Religious Affairs Youcef Belmehdi, Chairman of The World Forum for Proximity of Islamic Schools of Thought Ayatollah Hamid Shahriari, Chairman of The World Muslim Communities Council Dr. Ali Rashid Al Nuaimi, high-ranking delegations from Qatar, Turkey, Azerbaijan and others.

                                                                        Muslim leaders at the forum were united in their support for the Kremlin's positions and efforts to resolve the situation in the Gaza Strip. The global Muslim community highly appreciates the efforts and commends the Russian leadership for its consistent position in restoring the legitimate rights of the Palestinian people. From the very beginning of the conflict, Russia's Muslim community has expressed full solidarity with the global Muslim Ummah in condemning crimes against Palestinian civilians. Mufti Sheikh Ravil Gainutdin, like Mufti Shawki Allam of Egypt, the Grand Mufti of the Sultanate of Oman Sheikh Ahmad bin Hamad Al-Khalili, and other prominent Islamic spiritual leaders spoke at all possible international platforms about the inadmissibility of war on the entire Palestinian people or their genocide.

                                                                        Russia's Muslim community has not stayed aloof from the humanitarian catastrophe unfolding in the Middle East and is sending humanitarian aid to Gaza insofar as possible. As a matter of fact, the Zakyat Charitable Foundation under the DUM is actively implementing humanitarian projects in the Middle East. Humanitarian Islamic organizations and foundations from other Muslim regions of Russia—from Tatarstan and the Chechen Republic—are also involved in this effort.

                                                                        Constant meetings held by the leadership of the Russian DUM in the Moscow Cathedral Mosque also contribute to bringing Russia's position to the Muslim public. Many delegations from the Arab-Muslim world, including the political leaders of Islamic nations, visit the Cathedral Mosque whenever they come to Moscow, to meet and talk with the spiritual leader.

                                                                        In 2023, the Spiritual Administration signed several documents on the development of cooperation with a number of Muslim nations—UAE, Algeria, Syria—at the ministerial level, which, according to the parties, will contribute to the development of broad contacts in scientific, educational, cultural and other spheres. It is important that almost every Muslim member state of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation maintains contacts and implements certain joints projects with Muslims of Russia. This is undoubtedly a great work that bears fruit. It is important to note that virtually no remarkable Muslim event in the world takes place without the participation of Russian Muslims, which is particularly significant under the current circumstances.

                                                                        In the meantime, it is necessary to deepen the knowledge of each other within the cooperation framework. This is impossible without popularizing the history, traditions, religious values, humanitarian and social exchange, literature, and people-to-people diplomacy between Russia and Muslim states. The Russian Federation is well aware of this priority and does a lot to make its partners from Muslim countries feel as comfortable as possible. Thus, a public garden and a bust of the Algerian national hero, Emir Abdelkader al-Qadir al-Jazairi, were inaugurated in the heart of Moscow prior to the arrival of Algerian President Abdelmadjid Tebboune.

                                                                                      Countries are clamoring to join BRICS group, South Africa says, as Russia takes up leadership / Simone McCarthy, CNN (Страны стремятся присоединиться к группе БРИКС, говорит Южная Африка, поскольку Россия берет на себя лидерство / Симона Маккарти, CNN) / USA, February, 2024
                                                                                      Keywords: expert_opinion, brics+

                                                                                      Nearly three dozen countries are seeking entry into the China and Russia-backed BRICS economic group, member state South Africa said Wednesday, weeks after the body expanded its membership for the first time in more than a decade.

                                                                                      Thirty-four countries have submitted an expression of interest in joining the bloc of major emerging economies, South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told reporters, without naming the nations.

                                                                                      Russia was accepting those applications after assuming rotating chairmanship of the group this year – and will be the first member to oversee the body since it significantly expanded its global footprint at the start of the year, when Iran, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), Ethiopia, and Egypt formally joined.

                                                                                      The growing membership is widely viewed as a win for China and Russia, which have sought to reshape an international system they see as unfairly dominated by the United States amid growing frictions with Washington and the West.

                                                                                      BRICS, which since 2011 had been made up of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa, roughly positions itself as the Global South's answer to the Group of Seven (G7) major developed economies.

                                                                                      China has been a key driver of its expansion as leader Xi Jinping pushes an alternative world order, forging closer partnerships with key global players from Russia to the Middle East and strengthening international bodies where Beijing holds sway.

                                                                                      The expansion and continued interest from dozens more countries are also a boon for Russia, which has been shunned economically and diplomatically by the West following its invasion of Ukraine.

                                                                                      Moscow's position as chair will be a key opportunity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to push back against that isolation and portray himself as a key player on a broad diplomatic stage, as world leaders typically travel to the host nation for an annual summit.

                                                                                      Last year, all member state leaders besides Putin gathered in person in Johannesburg. The Russian president, who has an International Criminal Court warrant out for his arrest linked to alleged war crimes in Ukraine, participated virtually.

                                                                                      This year's event is expected to take place in October in the southwestern Russian city of Kazan.

                                                                                      Earlier this year, Putin encouraged representatives "of all countries interested in cooperating with our organization" to take part in events and said Russia looked forward to "working productively with all countries in the BRICS orbit," according to state-run news agency Tass.

                                                                                      The group took shape as a summit-level gathering between Brazil, Russia, India and China in 2009 and expanded to include South Africa two years later.

                                                                                      Six new BRICS countries were invited during the 2023 summit last August. Among those invited only Argentina declined to join, following the election of a new far-right administration.

                                                                                      The expansion adds the muscle of major oil-producing Gulf economies to the body and comes as both Russia and China have bolstered their relationships with sanctions-hit Iran. Last year, Beijing played a part brokering the restoration of ties between longtime rivals Saudi Arabia and Iran.

                                                                                      The new cohort of countries join as BRICS pushes toward more diplomatic and financial coordination, including reform of the United Nations Security Council and a move away from a US dollar-dominated trade system.

                                                                                      Finance ministers were working to develop the use of local currencies for payments between member states and international payment platforms to "redress what we regard as a rather unfair and costly payment system," South Africa's Pandor said Wednesday.

                                                                                                    World of Work
                                                                                                    SOCIAL POLICY, TRADE UNIONS, ACTIONS
                                                                                                    Washington's attempts to prevent Russian athletes from participating in sports events and sabotage a series of major events in Russia, including the Games of the Future and BRICS Games (О попытках Вашингтона помешать российским спортсменам участвовать в спортивных мероприятиях и саботировать ряд крупных мероприятий в России, включая Игры будущего и Игры БРИКС) / Russia, January, 2024
                                                                                                    Keywords: mofa, quotation, political_issues

                                                                                                    Washington's attempts to prevent Russian athletes from participating in sports events and sabotage a series of major events in Russia, including the Games of the Future and BRICS Games

                                                                                                    We could not help but notice the continuous attempts by the US to prevent Russian athletes from taking part in international events, as well as its stepped-up efforts to sabotage sports events scheduled to be held in Russia. To accomplish this, Washington is using the entire scope of its capabilities.

                                                                                                    Let me remind you that about ten years ago, the US began a campaign around Russian sports and athletes, accusing them of using doping. When we asked for proof, considering that this is a global issue that needs to be addressed through joint efforts and not turned into a tool of political repression, all we heard from them was that they stood for "clean sports."

                                                                                                    Everything that is happening now has revealed the true objectives of the United States set ten years ago. It was never about doping or clean sports; they did not want to protect the principles of the Olympic movement or preserve everything that had been accumulated in global sports. No, their only intention was to oust athletes from Russia (and other countries such as Belarus) from major global events. Why? Because this is how they deal with competition. In the late 1990s, the Americans thought they had nothing to fear from Russian sports because the success of Russian athletes had declined. Then we improved our sports accomplishments, and a campaign was launched to push Russian athletes from global platforms, to sideline Russian sport and Russia as a sports power, and to destroy global sports. Their goal is to create favourable conditions for themselves. As we can see, they are not even trying to conceal it or invent justifications. They are doing it openly.

                                                                                                    This began a long time ago. I remember when we brought it to the public's attention, we were told that politics had nothing to do with it. Western journalists were sure about that too. They said that it was all about caring about the health of Russian athletes and the non-use of doping.

                                                                                                    Now we are seeing direct pressure being put on international sports federations, blatant blackmail, and intimidation of athletes by the American authorities. When I speak about intimidation, I mean potential participants in events that are organised in our country. In addition, pressure is being put on the International Olympic Committee. The Anglo-Saxons are widely using the capacities of the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which they de facto control. The goal is clear: not only to prevent highly competitive Russian athletes from taking part in events, especially under the Russian flag and with the Russian anthem, but also to sabotage international sports events in Russia. The West is very unhappy with Russian sports because of its success. So, in the opinion of Washington and London, it is necessary to wage a large-scale, unscrupulous war, which is part of the hybrid war against our country.

                                                                                                    The IOC and WADA have sided with Washington's directive and already made critical statements regarding the prospects of holding major international sports events in our country, such as the Games of the Future and the BRICS Games. No one can answer the question: why do they care? What do they have to do with sports events that are not held under their auspices and are not funded with their money?

                                                                                                    The IOC is urging national Olympic committees to prevent their athletes from taking part in sport formats, initiated by Russia. In turn, WADA emphasises that national regulator RUSADA still does not conform to the World Anti-Doping Code.

                                                                                                    Anti-advertising is banned in the competitive business environment. Any advertiser in any country would say that direct anti-advertising highlights a rival's defeat. What do we see here? Moreover, we do not want to compete with anyone in this connection. We are simply holding sport events.

                                                                                                    Global sport is now facing a difficult situation that has been aggravated by destructive US actions, by the adoption of sanctions and the disruption of logistics (first, due to the COVID-19 pandemic and then because of imposed restrictions). Now, it seems important to do everything possible to develop sport, to create new formats of sport interaction and hold depoliticised competitions in the spirit of an honest struggle and without any national discrimination. However, all we see is the collective West endlessly trying to use the issue of sport for its own politicised and narrow mercenary goals. We can see a striving to smear, to pressure undesirable countries and to blackmail athletes who refuse to kowtow to them or to declare their commitment to alien values. All this divides the international Olympic movement, and everyone suffers as a result, especially sport and athletes.

                                                                                                    We do not intend to put up with this state of things. We will continue to defend the rights of our athletes. We are convinced that the international Olympic community must honour the Olympic Charter and generally recognised human rights norms, endorsed by everyone.

                                                                                                    We remain open to equitable and non-discriminatory sport interaction with all concerned partners in accordance with the spirit and principles of the Olympic movement. We advocate honest and fair competitions, and we want all countries without exception to take a full-fledged part in the Olympic and Paralympic movements. We are urging all sober-minded representatives of global sport to be guided by these simple and obvious approaches based on law and justice.
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