Vladimir Putin’s Presidential Speech at the BRICS 2023 Summit: Analysis

Published on 30th August 2023

The Russian President Vladimir Putin gave a speech via video-conference at the BRICS summit where he directly addressed the leaders of the four other BRICS countries, Brazil, India, China and South Africa, in addition to senior politicians from Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Saudi Arabia and the UAE together with over 50 heads of African states.

This is what he had to say. President’s Putin’s comments are highlighted by the initials VP, my comments as CDE.

VP: “I would like to begin by thanking our South African friends for everything they have done as part of their BRICS chairmanship this year.

Those of my colleagues who took the floor before me praised BRICS for its efforts, and overall we share this assessment. This association of five nations has established itself on the international stage as a respected entity and has been consistently strengthening its standing in international affairs.

BRICS has been following a forward-looking strategic course which meets the aspirations of a significant portion of the international community, the so-called global majority. By acting in a coordinated manner and based on the principles of equality, supporting each other as partners and taking each other’s interests into account, we tackle the most urgent issues on the global and regional agendas.

Importantly, we are all united in our commitment to shaping a multipolar world order with genuine justice, based on the international law and in keeping with the key principles set forth in the UN Charter, including sovereignty and respecting the right of every nation to follow its own development model. We oppose hegemonies of any kind and the exceptional status that some countries aspire to, as well as the new policy it entails, a policy of continued neo-colonialism.”

CDE: Putin immediately raises the general perception amongst the BRICS nations that global trade and economics are too much synchronized to the Western powers, organised and lead by the United States. He calls it ‘neo-colonialism’ and signals that the BRICS stands in opposition to this existing arrangement. He also identifies the United Nations as being the supreme global authority.

VP: “Let me point out that it was the attempts by some countries to preserve their global hegemony that paved the way to the deep crisis in Ukraine. It started when an anti-constitutional government coup took place in this country with the help of the Western countries. This was followed by the unleashing of a war against people who refused to accept this coup. It was a cruel war, a war of extermination, which lasted for eight years.

Russia decided to side with people who are fighting for their culture, their traditions, language and future. Stopping the war unleashed by the West and its satellites in Ukraine against the people of Donbass is the only thing that defines our actions in Ukraine.

We are grateful to our BRICS colleagues who are active in trying to end this situation and achieve a just settlement by peaceful means.”

CDE: Putin has laid the blame for the conflict in Ukraine firmly at the door of the West, tracing its origins to the Maidan coup of 2014, which effectively removed an elected, yet pro-Moscow government in favour of a Euro-centric government. The Ukraine conflict began from this time, with Ukraine basically splitting into two camps, the Eastern and Southern Donbass region being pro-Russian and the Western region pro-European in what was essentially a civil war. Matters came to a head in early 2021 when the Russian military entered Ukraine to prevent further violence. The West’s reaction has been to arm the Kiev backed military. The fighting subsequently continues. The background and causes of this conflict are tending now to be sympathetic to the Russian perspective in the Global South, while the West continues to push a strongly aggressive anti-Russian agenda without really embracing any solutions.

VP: “Colleagues, what matters is that we all unanimously stand in favour of a multipolar world order that is truly fair and based on international law.

From year to year, the BRICS countries are increasing their potential. As was already mentioned, the five partner states, with a total population exceeding 3 billion, account for a greater share in global GDP than the so-called Group of Seven in terms of purchasing power parity. Over the past decade, BRICS countries have doubled their investment in the global economy, and their total exports have reached 20 percent of the global total.”

CDE: Here Putin again promotes the benefits of a ‘multi-polar’ global structure and uses the BRICS example as a vehicle to illustrate the achievements and success of this approach.

VP: “The partner countries are successfully implementing their Strategy for BRICS Economic Partnership 2025. In particular, they are strengthening five-sided cooperation in such areas as diversification of supply chains, de-dollarisation and the transition to national currencies in mutual transactions, digital economy, support for small and medium-sized businesses, and fair technology transfer. And of course, businesses are taking an active part in these processes. The BRICS Business Council and the BRICS Women’s Business Alliance are putting in a lot of effort, as the host of today’s meeting, President Ramaphosa has already mentioned, and the leaders of these bodies are present here.”

CDE: The BRICS Economic Strategy 2025 document was issued in 2020 and is a five year plan that has defined the pathway to the issues Putin has raised. Largely, it has been meeting its objectives.

VP: An important priority of BRICS cooperation is the creation of new sustainable and safe transport routes. Speaking to the participants of the BRICS Business Forum, I have mentioned the relevance of accelerated development of transcontinental routes such as the North-South corridor, which will connect Russian ports in the northern seas and the Baltic Sea with sea terminals in the Persian Gulf and the Indian Ocean and in the future, will be able to facilitate annual transit of up to 30 million tonnes of cargo.

We believe that the time has come to establish a permanent BRICS transport commission, which would deal not only with the North-South project, but also on a broader scale with the development of logistics and transport corridors, interregional and global. If our partners agree, the Russian side could work on this idea as part of its BRICS chairmanship in 2024.”

CDE: Putin makes specific mention here of the INSTC (calling it the North-South Corridor as this is the primary corridor of special interest to Russia). He calls upon greater institutionalisation of the INSTC management with a permanent responsible commission and for ways to expand and develop this. The route links Russia with India via Iran (which has just been provided with BRICS membership) and further onto the Middle East (Saudi Arabia and the UAE have also just been invited to join BRICS). There is also a case for the African east coast to become involved in an expansion of the route. Ethiopia, also a new member of the BRICS, is one of the lead nations in the COMESA free trade bloc which includes 21 African nations within the Eastern side of the African continent.

VP: “Of course, we welcome closer ties between the five BRICS countries in promoting innovation around the world. We expect cooperation as part of the BRICS initiative to establish an international infrastructure network with a dedicated fund, which could be used to support and develop it. Russia stands ready to share the experience it has and the best practices, including in digital transformation and using artificial intelligence.

We are also committed to active involvement in implementing the agreements to set up a joint working group on nuclear medicine; and are interested in finding real-world applications for the BRICS Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) Cooperation Alliance. Russia fully supports the proposal by our South African colleagues to hold a dedicated ministerial meeting on women, given the need to empower women in politics, economics, and social affairs in all our countries.”

CDE: Confirmation of intra-BRICS cooperation in numerous fields, including infrastructure, development funding, digital technologies (customs and trade), in addition to initiatives to support medicines, vocational education, and the empowerment of women.

VP: Russia will assume the BRICS Chairmanship next year. Its motto will be Strengthening Multilateralism for Justice in Global Development and Security. We intend to hold about 200 events on political, economic, and social matters in over ten Russian cities.

We expect to hold the BRICS Summit in October 2024 in Kazan; and will coordinate the exact dates with our colleagues through diplomatic channels. The events in the BRICS+/outreach format, which has proven its worth, will also take place there.

During its Chairmanship, Russia is committed to doing everything it takes to contribute effectively to carrying out the decisions adopted at this summit, including those related to adding new participants to this association. We will work closely with our partners on foreign policy matters and in the key international platforms, primarily the United Nations, while also holding regular meetings of senior security officials.

Of course, we will attach primary importance to the urgent tasks such as fighting terrorism and the spread of terrorist ideology, as well as countering money laundering and recovering criminal assets.

By the way, we are grateful to our partners for their support within the Financial Action Task Force (FATF). We hope that this solidarity continues.”

CDE: Putin outlines the Russian focus for the next BRICS summit – 2024 – to be held in Kazan, Russia’s fifth largest city, sited on the River Volga in the Republic of Tatarstan. It is an interesting choice; over 50% of Tatarstan’s population is largely ethnic Turkic and practicing Muslims and it retains strong cultural and trade links with Turkiye, Central Asia and the Middle East. Putin’s other comments indicate that Russia takes the development of BRICS very seriously and will be doing what it can to promote this next year within its most influential cities.

VP: “We will facilitate the further comprehensive implementation of the BRICS Economic Partnership Strategy until 2025 and the development of new long-term cooperation guidelines. As we see it, they should include efforts to enhance our states’ role in the international monetary and financial system, develop interbank cooperation, expand the use of national currencies, and promote collaboration between tax, customs, and anti-monopoly agencies.”

CDE: Putin here strongly identifies the BRICS as a trade organisation and stresses the need to collaborate on interbank cooperation (presumably via the NDB) continue the BRICS already established de-dollarisation policy and replace its usage with those by BRICS common currencies, while also looking at customs and tax alignments.

There is some debate about how this can happen when the BRICS is not an official grouping. However, I believe this is quite deliberate, as putting institutions in place can over-complicate matters during development. It also means that as there is no official BRICS secretariat, it cannot be sanctioned. This means that in the meantime, tax and customs issues will be dealt with on a G2G basis rather than collectively. This allows leeway among what is a disparate set of economies, each with their individual strengths and weaknesses and commodities to trade. If they happen to coincide on a multilateral basis, then this is a bonus.

VP: “Russian priorities undoubtedly include an intention to build up partnership in science and innovations, healthcare, education, and humanitarian ties as a whole. Cultural and civilisational diversity is one of the supporting pillars of the new multipolar world order and implies the creation of an integral and free space for cultural exchange, arts, and creativity.

I believe that the time is ripe for a serious conversation with our BRICS partners, and, incidentally, with our SCO partners, and, of importance to us, with our CIS partners and other countries, about the future of culture in the world, as well as about preserving and enhancing the world cultural heritage. By the way, the 9th International Cultural Forum, scheduled to be held in the Russian city of St Petersburg from November 16 to 18 this year, might provide a venue for this dialogue.”

CDE: Specific mention here of aligning BRICS with other existing structures, such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO). China, India, Russia and new BRICS member Iran are all full SCO members, while new BRICS members Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE are all dialogue partners.

The Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) is also mentioned. This is a trade group, but one where all members have bilateral free trade agreements with each other as opposed to being a complete multilateral free trade bloc in its own right. As such, it is the apparent trade organisational precursor to how the BRICS seems to be developing. CIS members include Russia, in addition to Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan.

VP: “Russia, to be sure, will continue to promote in every way the further development of sports contacts and youth exchanges. Specifically, the BRICS Games are scheduled for June 2024. We also will be glad to welcome teams from BRICS countries at the Games of the Future international tournament to be held in Kazan next year. These competitions are a unique combination of dynamic athletic disciplines with the most popular video games and technological devices. A good opportunity for contacts and friendly communication will present itself at the World Youth Festival in Sochi in March 2024.”

CDE: The BRICS Games will appeal to BRICS member athletes and will assist both unify the organisation as well as give Russian athletes competitive action after being shunned by the Olympic and other sporting organisations. Russia has considerable experience of organising multi-nation events under one banner as it did so for decades under the Soviet Union’s integrated structure, although the BRICS is a far looser organisation than the USSR was and isn’t otherwise comparable.

VP: “In conclusion, I would like to stress once again that during its chairmanship Russia will collaborate with its BRICS partners in the most constructive manner to further strengthen the role and prestige of the Five, which is certain to grow.”

CDE: The Western media have focused on Putin’s comments about placing the blame for the Ukraine conflict, rather than provide any real analysis on what is beginning to unfold. This suggests, in the absence of any meaningful commentary that much of what the West has been saying is propaganda based and directed for their own domestic consumers. However, this doesn’t have any effect on the BRICS actual plans. The BRICS concept has been expanded, now includes a new significant footprint in the Middle East, has enrolled the second largest economy in South America in its new member Argentina, (Brazil is the largest) added the Mediterranean North African member Egypt and the East African influence of Ethiopia. (A demographic summary of the new BRICS members can be seen here).

The demographic impact of this is that with the new members coming on board, the total BRICS share of global GDP is now 37% on a PPP basis – as Putin duly pointed out. With the G7 now representing 30% of global GDP, it appears obvious that the world economy is going through a process that will see a rather larger say in how it is managed fall into the hands of emerging economies rather than the currently well-established ones. It is also apparent that the Global South and the world’s larger and smaller emerging economies are tending to side with Russia as concerns Ukraine and not the West. How the conflict ends remains to be seen, however it appears a prudent decision for Russia to be backing the BRICS as the global community also goes through the equivalent of a quasi-trade revolution.

By Chris Devonshire-Ellis is the Chairman of Dezan Shira & Associates.

 [email protected] 

First Published in Russia Briefing.

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