24th Sep 2023

BRICS summit: no Putin, but leaders plan to expand bloc

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin (here pictured with South Africa's Cyril Ramaphosa) is the only head of state or government not expected to attend the Johannesburg summit in person (Photo: Kremlin)
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Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa (known as the BRICS bloc) will meet in Johannesburg from Tuesday (22 August) until Thursday to assess the group's expansion and boost their currencies against the West.

China's president Xi Jinping, Brazil's Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva and India's prime minister Narendra Modi will attend the summit in person. As a bloc, it in total accounts for a quarter of global GDP.

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Russian president Vladimir Putin is the only leader not expected to attend the summit. His participation will be virtual, with his foreign minister, Sergei Lavrov, representing the Russian federation in person.

Putin has an International Criminal Court warrant out for his arrest and has declined the in-person invitation, although South African president Cyril Ramaphosa, who is hosting the summit, offered him immunity to attend.

The main topic on the leaders' agenda will be its possible expansion, although the war in Ukraine will be the unofficial main subject, due to diplomatic tensions between those who have condemned Russia's military aggression and those who have not.

During the Johannesburg meeting, Ukraine itself will seek closer ties with African nations, despite Russia's significant influence in some of them.

"Many years have been lost, but we are going to push ahead with a Ukrainian-African renaissance, to revive these relations," said Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba.

In a separate twist, there will be no discussion of a common currency for the BRICS, as proposed by Brazil, although the strengthening of their currencies against the US dollar to reduce their dependence on it will also be on the agenda.

On Tuesday afternoon, the leaders are expected to discuss the criteria for admitting new members to the bloc, but the internal differences between the more expansionist countries such as China and Russia and the more suspicious ones such as Brazil are being played out.

According to South African officials quoted by Reuters, 40 countries have expressed interest in joining this bloc of the developing Global South, and 12 of them have already formally applied for admission.

Speaking before the start of the summit hosted by his country, Rampahosa said the five nations want a "more balanced global order".

In an increasingly multipolar world, the developing Global South bloc is seen by others (and themselves) as a counterweight to Western influence.

It is an idea that the Chinese themselves want to reinforce. "If we expand BRICS to account for a similar portion of world GDP as the G7, then our collective voice in the world will grow stronger," said a Chinese official quoted by the Financial Times.

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