Ufa Summits. Understanding the Strategic Footprint

The BRICS and SCO Summits in Ufa were a great success in their own rights and the member states rallied behind Moscow as it faces US led sanctions; but there are inherent contradictions that emerge from among the partners that form a mixed bag of anti/pro-West camps.

The Seventh BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) and Fifteenth Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summits, held in Ufa (Russia) in July 2015, are significant for at least three reasons. First, countries from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe – who are respective members of the BRICS and SCO, gathered and held simultaneous meetings under a common and amalgamated banner. These mega events, attended by thousands of delegates from the member states, were mirror images of the 2009 summits held in Ekaterinburg.

Second, the BRICS states announced the New Development Bank (NDB) with a seed capital of USD 100 billion to finance their own development projects as also to shield the member states from the unpredictability and volatility of currency markets. The joint statement at Ufa clearly states that the BRICS countries are “concerned about potential spill over effects from the unconventional monetary policies of the advanced economies”. The NDB and the Contingent Reserves Arrangement (CRA) are major achievement for the BRICS member states and the NDB Chairman was optimistic of the potential of the institution and hopeful of accumulating as much as $400 billion in capital. It was also clarified that the new bank is not an alternate to the existing international financial institutions; instead, it is a complimentary institution to support economic development by undertaking projects through the use of local currencies and showcase that ‘developing countries are now able to stand on their feet in their own way and set up their own institutions’.

Third, the SCO spilled into South Asia and was expanded to include India and Pakistan as full members. Meanwhile, a number of Asian and Eurasian countries and Egypt wish to join the SCO as observers or partners.

The above events provide a number of political, economic and strategic issues of import for debate and discussions. At the political level, China and Russia, the key members of the BRICS and SCO, carry enormous weight and influence, were at the helm of the deliberations despite the former being under Western sanctions. For China it was an opportunity to make deeper inroads into Eurasia and consolidate its One Belt One Road (OBOR) initiative.

The strategic content of the Ufa event has a wider footprint. Although the agenda of the BRICS and SCO are different, China and Russia were clearly signalling to the West of their political and strategic punch. In fact, the two partners, despite their contradictions, have engaged in challenging the US and its European allies through a number of initiatives focused on strategic engagements including military cooperation and hardware sales. The Sea Cooperation-2015 exercises held between the Russian and the Chinese navies in the Mediterranean Sea may be called indeed a substantive development and an expression of the strategic partnership that showcased their ability to operate simultaneously in the eastern and western theatres thereby tiding over the tyranny of geography. The next bilateral naval exercises are scheduled in 2016 in the western Pacific where the US and its allies and partners are concerned over Chinese belligerence over the South China Sea disputes. Russia is also sending a message that it is not deterred by the financial sanctions imposed by the US and the EU, and China cannot be challenged by the US rebalance to Asia.

The BRICS and SCO Summits in Ufa were a great success in their own rights and the member states rallied behind Moscow as it faces US led sanctions; but there are inherent contradictions that emerge from among the partners that form a mixed bag of anti/pro-West camps. Russia and China have nestled together to challenge the overbearing US and its allies, while India, Brazil and South Africa continue to work simultaneously with the US and use their political, economic and strategic heft to advantage. They have enormous stakes in the US largesse pivoting on defence and security agreements and dialogue, access and basing arrangements, deployment of forces, and supply of military hardware.

Russia-India-China (RIC) have met on regular basis and discussed a number of global political and economic issues including North Korea. Their focus on peace and stability in war-torn Afghanistan is noteworthy and the joint statement in Ufa notes that ‘terrorism and extremism pose a serious threat to the security and stability of Afghanistan, the region and beyond’. India enjoys good relations with Russia, but China factor (border dispute in the Himalayas and Chinese forays into the Indian Ocean) loom large in New Delhi’s security calculus.

The BRICS appear to exhibit a newfound confidence largely driven by the economic heft and the China-Russia-India strategic profile is significant; however, the nature of their engagements with the US and also within the grouping is unable to provide strategic parity against the West. Under the circumstances, it is fair to argue that in the near term, the BRICS and SCO may not be able to alter the geopolitics of Asia-Eurasia and the US will continue to be the dominant player and its strategic footprint can be expected to be perceived as that of a primary security provider. 

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.