High-profile diplomat Vadim Lukov speaks to Russia Direct about Russia's vision of the BRICS.

Will the BRICS be part of a new multi-polar world order? Photo: AP

Russia Direct sat down with Ambassador at Large of the Foreign Ministry of Russia Vadim Lukov to discuss the prospects and strategy of the BRICS alliance.

Russia Direct: In your view, what does the future hold for BRICS countries?

Vadim Lukov: I’m sure that the BRICS’ role in the world will grow. I expect this group to become an important element in the global governance system. Two strategic factors speak to this fact.

First, the BRICS’ cumulative weight in the global economy is growing. This is due to the fact that the states comprising the BRICS enjoy a faster development rate compared to the economies of the “old,” industrialized countries.

Vadim Lukov. RIA Novosti

For example, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the G7’s average annual GDP growth rate to be at 0.67 percent in 2013, while for the BRICS countries, it’ll reach 4.6 percent this year. At the moment the BRICS account for 25 percent of the world GDP.

According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), by 2025 the aggregate GDP of the BRICS might exceed that of the G7.

Some might argue that simply adding up the potentials does not necessarily lead to a transformation in the general approaches to economic and political issues. That’s why it’s so important to take into account the second factor that strengthens the BRICS’ role on the global arena: There’s a range of shared interests bringing the partners together.

These include reforming the international financial and economic architecture to fit the multi-polar economy of the 21st century; enhancing the binding power of the international law principles and the central role of the UN in ensuring international peace and security and employing the complimentary elements in our economies to speed up the development of the participating countries. 

R.D.: What are the challenges that the BRICS as an alliance is facing?

V.L.: These challenges are defined first by the current stage in world economic and political development, and second by the individual development objectives of each participant. So, I would differentiate between internal and external challenges.

In the economic arena, the key external challenge is reforming the IMF to embrace the interests of the “new economies” and developing countries; reducing the excessive dependence of the world trade and finance on the dollar and the polices of the U.S. Federal Reserve and finalizing the Doha round within the WTO framework. 

In the international political context, the key challenge for all of us is standing by the principles of international law in international relations, protecting the states’ sovereignty and the right of their people to shape their future independently.

These are the general reference points for the BRICS countries in their approach to the Syrian crisis.

The key internal challenge for BRICS is promoting multilateral economic cooperation. Unfortunately, so far even at the bilateral level our business ties are very unevenly developed. Cooperation is well developed between Russia and China, as well as China and India and Brazil.

But otherwise, there is a lot of room for growth. That is why at the Durban summit, the Russian President Vladimir Putin suggested developing a strategy for economic cooperation between the BRICS countries.  

R.D.:  When will the BRICS develop from an economic to a political pact? 

V.L.: Let’s be more precise here: The BRICS are not an “economic pact.” The structures of this type (customs union, integration union) are characterized by common bodies and a unified system of mutual trading and economic privileges.

The BRICS do not have any of these. There’s a mechanism of coordinating approaches to individual issues of international trade policies through meetings of trade ministers and a working group on this issue.

We are realistic and understand that the BRICS as a group of states emerged firstly to promote shared interests in the financial and economic area.

The development of formal structures should follow real-life progress. Otherwise, we’ll end up with a bureaucratic mechanism focused on looking to apply itself.

But this does not rule out the coordination of political positions by the BRICS countries.

And it is not confined to Syria. We’re promoting common approaches to such issues as the fight against international terrorism and drug trafficking, the prevention of the deployment of arms in outer space, the Middle East peace process.

We are actively cooperating with the UN Human Rights Council, UNESCO, WTO, WHO and other organizations. I’d like to stress the particularly fruitful cooperation between the BRICS in the UN Security Council in 2011, when all the five countries were represented in it.

R.D.: What is Russia’s strategy in the BRICS?

V.L.: It is set out in detail in the Concept of Participation of the Russian Federation in the BRICS endorsed by Russian President Vladimir Putin on Feb. 9.

In a nutshell, our strategy is to use the membership in this “club” to expand mutually beneficial ties with our partners in all spheres, to boost the collective stance of the BRICS in the world economy and politics and to enhance the multi-vector nature of our foreign policy.

Another important element is the expansion of Russia’s cultural and linguistic presence in the largest countries of the world.

I’d like to point out that we are not seeking to give the BRICS a military-political dimension. This union is aimed at driving its agenda via “soft power.”

R.D.: Could the BRICS expand to embrace new members? When could this happen and which countries, in your opinion, could join the BRICS?

V.L.: At this point in time there’s no question of expanding the alliance, there’s a moratorium on discussing this topic in the next three to four years.

First, we should make sure the BRICS mechanisms work flawlessly.

However, there are a number of big developing countries, which have signaled their interest to join the BRICS or to establish strategic partnerships with it.

I wouldn’t name them now; it’s quite a sensitive topic.

R.D.:  What is the perception of the BRICS in the West – is it a rival, a partner or a “younger brother”?

V.L.: The BRICS are part of a new multi-polar world order, which does not allow for the old “black and white” mindset and a zero-sum game perception of international relations.

The BRICS participants would prefer to develop their relations with the Western states (as well as with all the rest) on the basis of common or similar interests. And there are quite a few – from accelerating global economic growth and employment to environmental protection.

R.D.: Last year the BRICS representatives announced their intention to set up a joint Development Bank and an independent rating agency to compete with Moody's, Fitch and Standard and Poor's. How viable is this?

V.L.: The talks on setting up the Development Bank and the virtual pool of currency are advancing.

According to experts from the Russian Ministry of Finance, the Development Bank could be set up in 2015. 

There are no definite plans on creating a BRICS rating agency so far.

Vadim Lukov, Ph.D. in history, is a special envoy of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, sous-sherpa in the BRICS and in the G8 and coordinator for G20 affairs at the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Lukov has been in diplomatic service since 1979. From 1997 to 2000, he was ambassador of the Russian Federation to South Africa and Lesotho, and from 2004 to 2009 — to Belgium.

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Can BRICS unite on global agenda?

Moscow bets on BRICS as incubator for new ideas