Why Russia prefers BRICS to Europe

Europe has an irresistible appeal for many Russians but after repeated rebuffs by the West, Moscow is coming around to the view that BRICS makes a better bedfellow.
Why Russia prefers BRICS to EuropeIn 1989 when Mikhail Gorbachev propounded his “Common European Home,” German sociologist Ralf Dahrendorf was among those who shot down that idea. In his book Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, he writes: “If there is a common European house or home to aim for, it is not Gorbachev’s but one to the West of his and his successors’ crumbling empire. Europe ends at the Soviet border, wherever that may be.”

Dahrendorf defined Europe as a political community where “small and medium-sized countries try to determine their destiny together. A superpower has no place in their midst, even if it is not an economic and perhaps no longer a political giant”.

Europe and Russia

Is European rejection forcing Russia to turn eastwards? Worryingly for Europe, is Moscow using the BRICS group as a way to steer policy concerning the West?

According to Professor Tadeusz Iwinski of Poland, Europe isn’t doing enough to open up to Russia. “Finland issues more visas to Russians than all the 27 countries of the European Union combined,” he pointed out during a discussion on “Russia and the World of the 21st Century,” at the 23rdEconomic Forum held from September 3-5 in Krynica-Zdroy, Poland.


Clearly, Europe hasn’t quite figured out how to deal with the huge neighbour to its east. But one thing is abundantly clear – Russia’s relationship with the world is changing on a transcontinental scale.

Iwinski, who is the Deputy Chairman of Poland’s Parliamentary Committee on Foreign Affairs, says the geopolitical landscape has changed and the West now has to contend – and live – with powerful bodies such as BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation.

European decline

Igor Belov of the Voice of Russia feels Europe’s charms are much diminished because of its concurrent demographic and economic decline.

For instance, the fertility rate in formerly buoyant countries such as Italy threatens to dip below 1. Put very crudely, not every couple in Europe is replacing itself. It portends a crisis in the future – by the middle of the 21stcentury Europe will have just 8 per cent of the world’s population.

Such an abysmal share of the global population pie translates into considerably less influence even if the continent remains technologically advanced.

Military manoeuvres

Perhaps the biggest joke of 2012 was the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to the European Union, despite the fact that Europe is relentlessly and recklessly moving towards an American-designed and built anti-ballistic missile defence (ABM) system that is likely to ratchet up tensions between Russia and Europe. In the view of Daniel Tarschys, Professor, Stockholm University, “We have replaced the Cold War with Cold Peace.”

Again, NATO’s expansion is unsettling Russia. “There is a huge divergence in how NATO and Russia perceive looming threats,” says Belov. “This makes it difficult for Russia and the West to arrive at a common ground in the area of security.”

Belov feels if NATO were only a military arm of the West, Russia could work with it but NATO has become a political entity with expansive aims. There can be lasting peace in Europe only if NATO draws a line across Europe and then declares it won’t move closer to Russia.

East or West? Easy choice

This European churn is happening in the backdrop of the rise of giants such as China and India. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) says 2013 is the first year in which emerging markets will account for more than half of world GDP on purchasing power parity. Just 13 years ago, they accounted for less than a third.

According to Arvind Subramanian and Martin Kessler of the Peterson Institute, China is the first “mega-trader” since colonial Britain. In the area of employment, the BRICS are far ahead. The McKinsey Global Institute says while emerging economies added 900 million non-farm jobs between 1980 and 2010, the advanced economies added just 160 million.

Wealth is inexorably shifting east to a narrow circle of countries in the region which includes China, India and South East Asia. More people live in this part of the world than outside it. It is easy to see which bloc Russia would prefer.

BRICS – a Russian proposal

However, it is not pure mercenary instinct that is nudging Russia east. Russia’s choice is primarily determined by an understanding in the Kremlin that the West cannot be trusted.

A little known fact about the BRICS is that it was Gorbachev – rather than former Goldman Sachs economist Jim O’Neill – who first proposed a union of the four major non-Western powers Russia, China, India and Brazil.

In 1989 Gorbachev, pioneered the idea of a “strategic triangle” that would bring together China, India and the Soviet Union. The concept behind the triangle was from the outset anti-American and one of Gorbachev’s early ideas for winning the Cold War.

Gorbachev told former Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi that the United States wished them all ill — something “even worse” than Tiananmen for the Soviet Union, India and China.

Says Sergey Radchenko in The Moscow Times: “Gorbachev peddled the idea with remarkable tenacity and by 1988 saw Brazil joining the programme in documents, which, if declassified earlier, would have given Gorbachev, rather than O’Neill, the authorship of the term BRIC.”

New World Order – III

Columnist Fyodor Lukyanov writes in theJournal of International Affairs, “The notion of multipolarity has shaped Russian foreign policy horizon since the mid-90s, when it became clear that Russian integration into Western system as an equal partner was not an option.”

While Gorbachev’s Common European Home never materialised, his other idea in 1988 of a “New World Order” was upended when the Soviet Union collapsed. In fact, it was the United States that inherited the new world order in which it became supreme and without a challenger.

However, the United States became so power drunk that it managed to do the undoable and ended up alienating almost every country in the world except the English speaking quarter.

The Syrian crisis has heralded yet another world order. Boosted in no small measure by multilateral forums such as the G20 and BRICS, Russia has once again assumed a leadership position – much to the chagrin of the West.

Clearly, all bets are off Russia moving West again.



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