Print this page
14.12.2011. Guest post: Russia needs the Brics

Many traits in Russian contemporary development cause me grave concern. Systemic corruption, for example; weak institutions; the manipulation of politics by an authoritarian leadership; and the economy’s excessive dependence on energy exports.
But as a seasoned observer, who witnessed Russia surviving several crises, I am tired of panicking. I believe that Russia has a future as long as there is at least some political and economic modernization. And this future depends on international cooperation, not least with the other Brics.
I am amazed that the country is still alive and functioning after ten years of revolutionary chaos and turmoil in the 1990s. That came after 70 years of communist dictatorship that cost the country tens of millions of lives in the civil war, Gulag camps, artificial famines, forced collectivisation and so on. On top of this, almost thirty million Soviet citizens died during the second world war.
It seems that Russians are still resting after 80 years of unbelievable hardships. They enjoy the newly-acquired modest level of consumerism and a degree of private freedom unprecedented in Russian history. So they have so far accepted authoritarian rule, social inequality and political stagnation. So far.
Challenges could come in future from the growing middle class – from the “freedom generation”, these who were born and grew up after the fall of communism. It is widely believed to be unlikely that the current regime has the ability to resort to rough authoritarian rule of the kind seen in Chile under president Pinochet. So in few years the country will most probably be pushed to a combination of authoritarian modernisation and some democratisation.
In the meantime, Russia continues to see steady technological modernisation, mostly achieved through the import of modern goods and services. The long-standing demographic decline has slowed due to increase in the median life expectancy of males and growth of birthrates.
Short of collapse of the world economy, Russia will be able to rely for many years on its staple exports – energy, raw materials, metals and – increasingly – agricultural products. Even with further economic growth, the country will only be able to keep afloat not more than three or four high-tech industries.
In a world which is increasingly insecure and chaotic the country is rapidly restoring its military might. Russia has relatively little “soft power”. So it tries to compete where it has a comparative advantage – in “hard power”.
But to develop even slowly in economic and political terms, Russia will have to continue to rely on importing capital and technologies from west and east. It cannot develop alone.
With Europe in crisis, the Middle East in turmoil and conflict in Afghanistan (casting a shadow over central Asia), Russia is inevitably drifting east. I hope it can start to develop Siberia and the east of the country with the help of foreign capital from all over the world, not only from China.
Of course, Russian general orientation towards Europe will stay, with attempts to build a common economic, energy and human space with the European Union. But, unfortunately, Europe’s attractiveness is deteriorating visibly.
So, co-operation with the other Brics is very important. Russia will continue to work closely with its Bric partners, most of which it will continue to exceed in wealth and international clout in the coming years.
This co-operation will not be build on the basis of economic ties, which are loose except in the case of China. It will be built on common political interests. After all the Brics are not an economic bloc, even though the term was coined by economists on economic grounds. The Brics are a group of rising powers eager to join hands in helping to assure that the global the shift of power in their favour continues – does so in a peaceful way.
By simply meeting, member countries are increasing their individual clout. But there are also the first signs of co-ordination of policies. During the last G20 summit, it was agreed that financial assistance to EU would be channelled only through IMF.
In the 1990s the west chose not to integrate Russia into its structures, despite the efforts of myself and like-minded colleagues in Russia and the west. But predictions of Russia’s imminent collapse did not materialise. The country has re-emerged from crisis. And now, sometimes arrogantly and heavy-handedly, it is developing political ties with other countries. Countries outside the old west. Chief among them are the Brics. These developments are not necessarily against the west.

// Financial Times, December 6, 2011.