30 December 2008
The Observer Research Foundation (ORF) was invited to put together a group from India for the Moscow conference by the Polity Foundation, one of the principal Russian organisers. ORF and Polity have had earlier contact and a bilateral event had been jointly organised by ORF on “Changing Patterns of Indo-Russian Cooperation” at Delhi on Nov 17-18, 2008, at which the rise of BRIC had been a prominent topic of discussion. The Russian team for that meeting had been led by Nikonov Vyacheslav, the President of the Polity foundation.
The Moscow conference was organised jointly by the Public Chamber of the Russian Federation and the Polity foundation. The Public Chamber, a 126-member body designed to provide the Russian Duma with advice on public policy and oversight of governmental bodies and the executive branch, was created under Russian law during Mr.Putin’s Presidency in 2005. It consists of appointees of Mr. Putin, and national and regional NGOs and works through 17 Commissions.
The Polity Foundation describes itself as a nongovernmental, non-commercial think tank specialising in political consulting and research (a kind of public affairs PR and image development agency). It was founded in 1993 by a group of renowned Russian political scientists.
The conference was funded on a generous scale and serviced by the Russkiy Mir Foundation, established in June 2007 by a Presidential decree for the purpose of “promoting the Russian language, as Russia’s national heritage and a significant aspect of Russian and world culture, and supporting Russian language teaching programmes abroad.” The Foundation is a joint project of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Education and Science and supported by both public and private funds.
The influential Russian figure behind the conference was Nikonov Vyacheslav, who is Executive Director of the Russkiy Foundation, President of the Polity foundation and Chairman of the Commission on International Cooperation and Diplomacy of the Public Chamber. He is a grandson of previous Soviet Foreign Minister Molotov.
The participants were all from the BRIC countries. There was high-powered Russian participation, with strong presence from the Russian Academy of Science and the Foreign Office. The Chinese invitees were from the well known China Centre for Contemporary World Studies. The Brazilians were mainly senior ex Foreign Office. Of the six Indian participants, four were from the ORF led by Amb. Dilip Lahiri, Distinguished Fellow, and included Amb.T.C.A. Rangachari, now affiliated with the Centre of Third World Studies of Jamia Milia and Mohan Guruswamy, Charman of the Centre for Policy Alternatives.
There was general recognition that the size and weight of the BRIC countries would count internationally when they acted together. This had been demonstrated at the recent Sao Paulo meeting to prepare for the Washington Summit to deal with the economic meltdown and plans for reforming the international economic architecture. This unity would also operate on important principles like democratization of the international order, opposition to unilateralism etc. and , taken together, provide a critical mass of common interests making it advantageous for all four countries to persevere with periodic BRIC meetings and increasing its visibility and coordination.
On the other hand, there was a clear recognition that BRIC are not “natural allies” and there were serious intra-BRIC disputes and differences in world view that severely restricted the area for coordinated BRIC action. Evidently, BRIC can evolve only if the focus was on common positions and interests and bilateral difficulties were kept out. The Chinese particularly emphasized this issue.
There were various suggestions on the need to increase the density of political, economic, scientific and cultural cooperation among BRIC countries and develop the practice of regular meetings, consultation and coordination. On the other hand it was recognized that such cooperation had to be viable due its intrinsic value and could not be sustained principally on the back of the current degree of priority attached by the four governments to developing BRIC as a factor in international politics.
Varying degrees of concern was expressed that BRIC should exercise great care to avoid being seen as opposed to US or the West or other existing groupings. At the same time it was pointed out that, since BRIC countries would work for change in the current international political and security architecture, weighted at present disproportionately in favour of the US led OECD countries, the rise of BRIC weight and influence was unlikely to be universally welcome.
There was some talk of the need for BRIC to include others countries such as South Africa. However the general feeling was that BRIC should not pitch itself as the voice of non OECD countries, which could involve it in non-productive discussions at this stage on representativeness, expansion and criteria. BRIC countries only represented themselves. BRIC’s importance was due to the size and weight of the four countries. At the same time, to be effective, BRIC had to be sensitive to the views and interests of smaller and less developed countries.
Questions were raised relating to overlapping and duplication in the objectives of various existing non OECD groupings such as BRIC, RIC (Russia, India, China), IBSA (India, Brazil, South Africa), the G8 non-OECD dialogue partners , the non- OECD members of G20 and suggestions for a more inclusive BRICSAM ( BRIC + South Africa + Mexico). On the whole, the feeling was that there may be advantage for non- OECD countries in such multiple groupings with variable geometry in the present fluid situation regarding the future of the international architecture.
There was a general feeling among the participants that unipolarity, at least in its earlier overwhelming manifestation, is a thing of the past.and that we live in an increasingly multipolar world where nations must respect one another’s core interests and concerns. In this context, the Russians espressed deep concern at the developments in Georgia, plans for a missile shield in Poland and the proposed expansion of NATO to Ukraine.
The first BRIC Summit, called for recently by the Russian and Brazilian Presidents, is expected to take place in June 2009 at Yekaterinburg in Russia, where the BRIC Foreign Ministers had first met together earlier this year. There were suggestions that the Moscow conference could convert itself to a preparatory committee for the Summit, for the designation of nodal points in each country for intra- BRIC coordination, and the setting up a Sherpa system for developing an agenda for the Summit, commissioning policy papers etc. The Russians, who will naturally bear the major responsibility for the success of the first BRIC Summit, are expected to take the initiative on these matters. The Government of India would also need to set in place a preparatory process for its own participation in the Yekaterinburg Summit.