BRICS: Expert Dimension

25.05.2020 | International Affairs. Special Issue “Russian Chairmanship 2020”

Vyacheslav Nikonov
Chairman of the Committee on Education and Science of State Duma of the Russian Federation; Chairman of the Board of the National Committee on BRICS Research; Chairman of the BRICS Russia Expert Council.

The BRICS group was conceived as virtual reality. As something discussed by economists and international politics experts. Although the countries have been interacting with one another for centuries. And the real basis of their multilateral interaction was already there in the shape of the famous Russia-India-China triangle brought into circulation by Evgeny Primakov. The transformation of BRICS into an influential international format went through several stages, and at each stage the role of experts was paramount.

The BRICS expert track had come into being before the association itself did. Even before the first summit meeting convened in Yekaterinburg, they had launched a mechanism of consultations involving members of the academic circles in Brazil, Russia, India and China. And in December 2008 the Unity in the Name of Russia Fund and Russkiy Mir (Russian World) Foundation initiated the first ever personal meeting of scholars and practitioners from the then four-member BRIC at the Ararat Park Hyatt Hotel in Moscow.

The first impression was surprise at the very fact of such a multiple get-together. Previously people were more accustomed to communicating either at bilateral meetings or on Western grounds. The discourse was likewise unusual; people started to talk of common interests shared by the major rising economies. It was doubtful whether the countries so strikingly different and representing different civilizations could find a common language, let alone unite. And they did look for that common language and succeeded in finding one. Then they met in Yekaterinburg, on the eve of the first BRICS Summit.

Such meetings actually constituted the start of the annual Academic Forum that the chair country conducted on the threshold of the summit meeting by the BRICS leaders, expecting scholars to come up with independent estimates and recommendations.

The concluding documents of the forums deal with all aspects of multilateral interaction, and I dare say, helped enrich the summit discussions, furthering and expanding the BRICS agenda way beyond the originally outlined scope of economic cooperation. In a whole series of areas experts played the role of pioneers calling attention to newly emerging problems. The vast majority of initiatives by the expert community were endorsed at the top level and helped turn the association into a significant mechanism of global management with an enormous agenda capable of formatting the fabric of international relations.

By the third summit, when South Africa had joined the dialogue and BRICS had been firmly established, they resolved at the top level to institutionalize the expert track by setting up a network of research centers of the five countries (1). In Russia, to comply with the plan of measures for implementing the accords achieved at the BRICS Summit in China’s Sanya and approved by the President of the Russian Federation on May 24, 2011, the job of the national coordinator was taken up by the National Committee for BRICS Research (NRC/BRICS). The Committee, as the resolution said, was to assist the formation of a single information field in the area of domestic BRICS research and the promotion of the Russian position and expert estimates on the international arena; coordination of activity by the leading research organizations and experts in the BRICS sector.

It incorporated a wide variety of specialists who adopted a jocular self-appellation of BRICSologists. Their principal mission was to organize and research the role and place of the BRICS countries and other so-called rising powers in global politics and economics.

In 2013, before the Durban Summit in South Africa, the heads of the national coordinating centers signed a declaration on the BRICS Think Tank Council (BRICS TTC) (2). Its main objective is to exchange ideas between leading experts, scholars and research centers of the five countries and devise a joint ideology and strategic vision of development prospects of the BRICS Association (3).

At present the official BRICS TTC members are the following organizations intended to promote five-side cooperation along the so-called second BRICS lane: from Brazil, the Institute of Applied Economic Research (Instituto de Pesquisa Econômica Aplicada, IPEA); from Russia, the National Committee for BRICS Research (NRC/BRICS); from India, the Observer Research Foundation (ORF); from China, the China Council for the BRICS Think Tank Cooperation, CCBTC) (4); from South Africa, the South African BRICS Think Tank, SABTT) (5).

This is a veritable holding of think tanks. Scholars and experts regularly hold conferences and consultations, both in a multilateral and in a bilateral format. The apex of the pyramid is the annual BRICS Academic Forum to which the national coordinators invite specialists from relevant ministries and departments, as well as leading experts from the five countries (the number of participants has to be limited to 200 or so, although there are a lot more people willing to take part). Typically, the Academic Forum works under the patronage of the host country’s foreign office, and its agenda is formed with a view to the subjects to be discussed at the coming BRICS Summit. So, it is small wonder that the mass media likewise display considerable interest in the Academic Forum.

The TTC has devised its own system of work. It is based on the Long-term Vision of BRICS prepared on the results of the 6th Academic Forum held in Rio de Janeiro in 2014. There the following five main pillars of interaction were named:

I. Promotion of economic growth and development;
II. Peace and security:
III. Social equality, sustainable development and improved quality of life;
IV. Political and economic management;
V. Universal progress achieved by means of exchanging knowledge and innovation (6).

Each of the trends was the responsibility of one of the parties. Thus, China was in charge of the first line of research; Russia, of the second; South Africa, of the third; India, of the fourth; Brazil, of the fifth.

Following this pattern, the Think Tank Council prepared, in coordination with the Brazilian side, and presented, in Ufa in 2016, this time within the framework of Russia’s chairmanship, the first major analytical report “Toward a Long-term Strategy for BRICS” (7) dedicated to furthering cooperation among the Five for the medium and long term. Later, in 2017, the TTC developed the ideas of the report in the “BRICS 2015: the Jubilee Goals” prognosis.

Within the framework of its 2015 chairmanship Russia, in accordance with the recommendations of the Academic Forum and the Think Tank Council, proposed that the partners should further cooperation by involving in the latter the civil society of the five countries. In the same year Moscow hosted the first BRICS Civil Forum, with assistance from the TTC. Taking part in the Forum were members of nongovernmental organizations of the five сountries. Subsequently, the other member-countries of the association took up the initiative, and the Civil Forum became a pivotal event of the second lane.

Despite the changes in Brazil’s political leadership in 2019, that country not only preserved the BRICS format, but was also an unqualified success in the year of its chairmanship, having turned cooperation of the five сountries into the channel of practical interaction. The 11th Academic Forum of BRICS was successfully held in Brasilia in September. Alas, as it was pressed for time while preparing the event, the Brazilian side failed to hold the BRICS Civil Forum. However, Brazil is determined to continue cooperation within the framework of the civil track. As for the members of the Think Tank Council, they launched a series of new projects.

Brazil’s chairmanship heralded the third cycle in the history of the association. Russia in its chairmanship year of 2020 intends to carry on the line of intensifying practical interaction between the countries of the five сountries.

The 12th Academic Forum of BRICS will be held in Moscow in May 2020. The BRICS Civil Forum will be hosted by Yaroslavl. They will draw up recommendations by the expert and civil communities to the leaders of the five countries on the threshold of the BRICS Summit, and take steps toward closer coordination of research into relevant issues.

It is also important to ensure closer interaction between national coordinators of the second lane and the Sherpas/sous-Sherpas of the BRICS countries, i.e. the BRICS official and expert tracks, for more productive employment of the recommendations by the expert community to the five countries’ leaders.

They are devising a methodology of the current monitoring of the BRICS activity and translating into reality the accords achieved at the summits, which will help pinpoint problem areas of cooperation and propose steps to attain consensus.

BRICS has not a few ill-wishers. Some believe that BRICS is an impossibility. Others argue that BRICS runs counter to the principles of the liberal Western outlook. Still others prefer to simply ignore BRICS.

Yet, whatever the ill-wishers may say, BRICS is already a reality of the new world order. An example of how relations between states of the world should be constructed. BRICS is an alliance of values that unites our countries. These values are sovereignty, respect for national dignity, non-intervention in internal affairs, respect for the interests and traditions of the partners, and desire for peace and harmony.

The gentle ascent of BRICS does not involve either violence or hegemonic aspirations. Each of the five countries has its own unique place on the Earth, its cultural matrix, and its views of security provision. But they regard this diversity as an unquestionable blessing.

Each of the countries is self-sufficient. But together we are infinitely more powerful.

(1) Declaration on the Results of the BRICS Summit in Sanya, China, April 14, 2011. URL: (Date of access, 02/10/2020).

(2) Declaration on the Establishment of the BRICS Think Tank Council, Durban, South Africa, March 11, 2013. URL: system/asset_docs/data/54c f/71f1/6272/690a/8b0c/0000/original/Declaration_on_the_establishment_of_the_ BRICS_Think_Tanks_Council.pdf?1422881265 (Date of access, 02/10/2020).

(3) Declaration on the Results of the BRICS Summit in New Delhi, India, March 29, 2012. URL: (Date of access, 02/10/2020).

(4) Established on the initiative of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China on January 11, 2017. Predecessor, the China Centre for Contemporary World Studies, CCCWS).

(5) Established on the initiative of the Human Sciences Research Council in February 2015. Predecessor, the Human Sciences Research Council, HSRC.

(6) «Towards a Long-Term Strategy for BRICS», recommendations by the BRICS Think Tank Council, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, March 17, 2014. URL: Council.pdf?1422615941 (Date of access, 02/10/2020).

(7) «Towards a Long-Term Strategy for BRICS», a proposal by the BRICS Think Tank Council, 2015. URL: a884/6272/6921/aa01/0000/original/%D0%9D%D0%B0_%D0%BF%D1%83%D1 %82%D0%B8_%D0%BA_%D0%B4%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B3%D0%BE%D1 %81%D1%80%D0%BE%D1%87%D0%BD%D0%BE%D0%B9_%D1%81%D1%8 2%D1%80%D0%B0%D1%82%D0%B5%D0%B3%D0%B8%D0%B8_%D1%81% D1%82%D1%80%D0%B0%D0%BD_%D0%91%D0%A0%D0%98%D0%9A%D0 %A1_(%D0%B0%D0%BD%D0%B3%D0%BB).pdf?1439475844 (Date of access, 02/10/2020).

International Affairs. Special Issue “Russian Chairmanship 2020”. Moscow. May 2020. P. 14-19.

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