The members of the Brics Group of important emerging countries have started their summit in South Africa. China’s President Xi Jinping, Brazil’s Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa and India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi met in the economic metropolis of Johannesburg on Tuesday – Russian President Vladimir Putin was connected via video. The focus of the three-day meeting is primarily on the discussion of expanding the group.

Putin, who would have been arrested in South Africa because of an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court, used the meeting as an opportunity to once again justify the termination of the grain agreement with Ukraine with sharp criticism of the West and Kiev. The Kremlin chief complained that none of the conditions laid down in the contract to facilitate the export of Russian grain and fertilizer had been met. Moscow will only lift the blockade of Ukrainian ports and return to the agreement once all Russian demands have been met.

Russia sees the summit as an opportunity to show on the international stage that, despite all the sanctions imposed by the West in the wake of the Ukraine war, it is not isolated in world politics. Putin and his Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov have repeatedly emphasized in advance that not all countries in the world share the West’s view of the war and that they advocate a multipolar world order without US supremacy.

Xi: ‘Whoever catches up will be handicapped’

“There is a country that wants to maintain its hegemony and has done everything to paralyze the emerging and developing countries,” China’s President Xi said in a statement read by his trade minister Wang Wentao, without naming the United States. “Those who develop quickly will be contained by them. Those who catch up will be hindered.”

However, Brazilian President Lula emphasized that the BRICS group is not directed against others. Rather, it is about a better organization of the Global South, he wrote on Platform X on Tuesday. “The Brics are not an antithesis to the G7, the G20 or anyone else,” wrote Lula. “We want to organize ourselves as the Global South. We are important in the global debate and sit at the negotiating table on an equal footing with the European Union and the United States.”

South Africa’s President Ramaphosa called for a “fundamental reform of global financial institutions”. Western industrial powers in particular are currently benefiting from a “protectionism” that is undermining fair growth in the global economy, according to Ramaphosa. Financial institutions should be able to react more agilely to the challenges of developing countries.

“We cannot accept the greed of neocolonialism, which imposes trade barriers and discriminatory measures under the guise of safeguard directives,” Lula said. The Brics countries are therefore committed to fairer world trade.

The goal: more meaning

An important focus of the summit meeting is the planned expansion of the group of five. It wants to become “Brics plus” and create a counterbalance to the geopolitical and economic dominance of the West with numerous new members. The member states still have to agree on admission criteria. It is also still unclear when additional countries will be included.

According to South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor, around 40 countries have expressed a more or less binding interest in Brics membership, 23 of them concrete, including Argentina, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Algeria, Egypt, Iran and Bangladesh.

The member states have different positions on the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine. Only China gives Putin full backing and does not want to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Brazil, India and South Africa are more neutral. South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa is leading an African peace initiative to end the Ukraine war. However, recent mediation efforts by the initiative in Moscow and Kiev have had no discernible success.

For Putin, Brics is the ideal setting to demonstrate that his country still has allies. According to this logic, “Brics plus” would also mean: the more, the better. China is also seen as a driving force behind enlargement. According to experts, China wants to use “Brics plus” as a stage for political activism against the US and to put itself at the center of the world order. Brazil is also pushing for other countries to join.

India, on the other hand, takes a rather critical view of “Brics plus”. The country fears it could lose influence in the group with the possible inclusion of several pro-China nations. Above all, South Africa is hoping for increased economic cooperation and less dependence on the US dollar as the global reserve currency.