Foreign ministers from the BRICS countries are convening in South Africa as the five-nation bloc aims to establish itself as a counterbalance to Western geopolitical influence following Russia’s incursion into Ukraine.
The talks, held in Cape Town, serve as a precursor to an upcoming summit in Johannesburg, which has sparked controversy due to the potential attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Putin is the subject of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant issued in March on charges of forcibly deporting children from Russian-occupied Ukrainian territory.
While Russia denies these allegations, South Africa invited Putin in January. Brazil, Russia, India, and South Africa have confirmed their participation, with China being represented by a deputy minister.
Although the agenda remains undisclosed, analysts believe the discussions will focus on strengthening ties among existing members and considering the group’s expansion.
The BRICS bloc, once seen as a loose association of emerging economies, has taken on a more tangible form in recent years, driven initially by Beijing and subsequently bolstered by Moscow following the start of the Ukraine conflict in February 2022.
Against the backdrop of the Ukraine war’s geopolitical ramifications, BRICS leaders have expressed openness to accepting new members, including oil-producing countries. Officials have disclosed that Venezuela, Argentina, Iran, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates have either formally applied or expressed interest in joining.
South Africa, despite being the smallest member, staunchly supports the bloc. However, preparations for the August summit have been complicated by the ICC’s announcement regarding Putin. As a member of the ICC, South Africa would face pressure to arrest Putin if he attends the Johannesburg meeting.
While Putin’s plans remain unconfirmed, with the Kremlin stating that Russia will participate at the ‘proper level,’ South Africa’s position is uncertain.
The government, caught between its backing of BRICS and its friendship with Russia, is weighing the potential backlash from vital Western economic partners.
Independent political analysts suggest that South Africa’s ideal scenario would be for Putin to decide against attending the summit.