Brics ministers meet in push to establish group as balance to West
Grouping is open to admitting new members, including oil producing countries
Foreign ministers from the Brics countries are meeting in SA from Thursday as the five-nation bloc seeks to forge itself into a counterweight to Western geopolitical dominance in the wake of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
The talks are a prelude to an August summit in Johannesburg that has already created controversy because of the possible attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin, the target of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant.
In March, the ICC accused him of the war crime of forcibly deporting children from Russian-occupied territory in Ukraine. Moscow denies the allegations. SA had already invited Putin in January.
SA authorities confirmed that foreign ministers from Brazil, Russia, India, and are attending Thursday’s meeting in Cape Town, while a deputy minister is representing China.
No agenda has been made public, but analysts said discussions would aim to deepen ties among existing members and consider an expansion of the group.
“Brics is positioning itself as an alternative to the West and as a way to make space for emerging powers,” said Cobus van Staden of the SA Institute of International Affairs.
Once viewed as a loose, largely symbolic association of disparate emerging economies, Brics has in recent years taken more concrete shape, driven initially by Beijing and, since the start of the Ukraine war in February 2022, with added impetus from Moscow.
Discussions of Brics’ New Development Bank, which stopped funding projects in Russia to comply with sanctions, were expected on Thursday, an SA foreign ministry source said.
Could oil producers join?
Amid the growing geopolitical polarisation resulting from the war in Ukraine, Brics leaders have said they are open to admitting new members, including oil producing countries.
Venezuela, Argentina, Iran, Algeria, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are on a list of those who have either formally applied to join or expressed interest, officials said.
“If they can bring in the oil producer countries that will be key, given the petrodollar system,” said political analyst William Gumede, who has written extensively on Brics.
Though the bloc's smallest member, SA is among its biggest champions. Still, its preparations for the August 22-24 summit have been complicated by the ICC announcement on Putin.
As an ICC member SA is under pressure to arrest Putin, were he to attend the meeting in Johannesburg. Putin hasn’t confirmed his plans, with the Kremlin only saying Russia would take part at the “proper level”.
SA’s position is unclear. Pretoria has said it will honour its obligations under its ICC membership, but the government is still weighing the possibility of hosting Putin or even moving the summit to China.
Independent political analyst Nic Borain said the government was caught between its support for Brics and friendship with Russia and the looming backlash from vital Western economic partners.
“Obviously, the best solution for SA is if Putin decided not to come.”
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