Why BRICS and MINT Might Save Russia and Sink the US

In 2001, a Goldman Sachs economist named Jim O'Neill thought of the term "BRIC" to describe a bloc of countries, which he believed would grow from "emerging economies" to the dominant force in global trade (Rached 91).  At the time, O'Neill predicted that the four countries encompassed in the acronym—Brazil, Russia, India, and China—would eventually outpace and eclipse what were then known as the G8 countries: the United States, Canada, Great Britain, Germany, France, Italy, Russia, and Japan.

Note one detail: when Jim O'Neill coined this term, Russia straddled the two classifications, as Russia tends to do.

In the 1970s, when it was in vogue to speak of the "First World" and "Third World," Russia's designation as "Second World" was so rarely mentioned that many people may have assumed there were only a first and a third world to speak of.  In the 2019 book Revisiting Regionalism and Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, E.B. Mikhaylenko and I.M. Adami suggest that Russia has always been stuck between two curses because it lies at the coldest margins of tiny but wealthy Europe and vast but impoverished Asia.

The first curse is the "Eurasian" curse, described by Timofei Bordachev as Russia's "inability to identify itself as a single entity" because the massive Eurasian landmass exists "in the absence of a single basis of values"; hence "the ideologists of Eurasianism tend to focus on single institutions, therefore trying to repeat the path of the European unification" (qtd. in Mikhaylenko 170).  Institutions by themselves tend to fail at building a common cultural or social ground for the ambiguous mass known as "Eurasia."  The other curse is "the European curse," which Mikhaylenko says "denotes the long history of relations between Russia and Europe, attempts to build common institutions, and reliance on the West-centric world order" (172).

When it came to questions of class and race, Russia was a double-foil in the BRIC and G8 worlds; too European for Asia but too Oriental for Europe, at once civilized and underdeveloped, ornate but rugged, white yet off-white, neither rich nor poor.  On the one hand, the current war between Russia and Ukraine could be characterized as a fight between two "white" nations, thereby undermining the "white privilege" model favored by American race theorists.  Nevertheless, despite the fact that Zelensky-supporters prefer to dismiss any talk of "de-nazification" as Russian disinformation, the Russian people are the product of migrations and invasions from Asia, and Russians have been racialized as inferior mongrels by Nazis in Germany as well as in some parts of Eastern Europe.

In order to understand what the next world order might entail, we Americans have to understand the larger networks to which Russia has belonged.  In the United States, many of us have not had the chance to study Russia's relationships other than its tense interactions with ourselves.  I include myself among the partially uneducated, which is why I spent some time getting into the history of Russia's interregional politics and reading the articles listed in the bibliography.  I walked away from the immersion with a few conclusions.

Russia knew that the split with the West was coming, and was ready for it.

Russia has been readying itself to be severed from the West since before the twenty-first century began.  While the West paid minimal attention, Russia invested time and money to build a global support system in Asia, Africa, and Latin America, especially a development bank, founded in 2015, from which only 18% of approved loans went to Russia but 82% went to Africa, Africa, and South America.  The loans were earmarked for essential services: transport (29%), water/sanitation (22%), urban and social needs (15%), energy (26%), and sustainability (8%).  With investments in key regional hubs — Brazil, South Africa, China, and India — Russians deliberately placed the hinges of three large continents in the hands of leaders who had obligations to Moscow and reasons to view Putin favorably.  This helps to explain why so many countries rejected the sanctions the United States called for.

As Giovanni Barbieri noted, as early as 2015, Russia was already working with China and India, as well as other nations, on "the internationalization of [China's] domestic currency."  The plan to carve out a global economy free from the dominance of the dollar was in the works long before the most recent sanctions over Russia's invasion of Ukraine (242).

While the United States has dealt with the developing world with the assumption that the developing world is a likable but utterly different universe, Russia seems to have succeeded in dealing with the developing world as a peer.  This is why, perhaps, the English-speaking world's perception of Russia as a bully does not always persuade people around the globe.  All the institutions from which Russia just got banished are the ones that provoked third-world rancor and inspired blocs like BRIC (soon to be BRICS, as explained below).  As Bianca Naude puts it, international bodies such as the United Nations, NATO, the International Criminal Court, Bretton Woods, World Bank, and the IMF constitute "an architecture" that "is still an extension of colonialism" (111).  Naude's work focuses particularly on Africa, where Russia's and China's histories predispose partnerships that would be more difficult with European nations such as England, France, Belgium, Netherlands, Portugal, or Germany, which violently colonized the continent.  Similarly, the United States' internal racial strife is well known in the international community and constantly reminds African nations of the United States' history in the Atlantic slave trade.

In reading the many journal articles that have dealt with Russia's interregional policies, one finds that a robust class of scholars has long been advising Russian leaders about the country's ambivalent position between the West and the Global South.  By founding banks, joint infrastructural agreements, trade deals, and alternatives to the dollar, the Russian cadre made a decision as early as 2001 that they would have to bet on the Global South as their future political home rather than the U.S.-dominated West.

One perk that comes with existing at the margins of Asia is Russia's unique role as a glue holding together India and China.  India and China would have difficulty forming a bloc with each other because they have heated border disputes.  But Russia has managed to maintain good relations with each, making it possible for India's and China's massive economies to be indirectly linked through Russia into a bloc powerful enough to challenge the dollar-based West.

There's ample evidence that Russia isn't paying as much attention to us as we think it is.

Many Americans may be mistaken about who constitutes Russia's main audience.  During the overheated English-language coverage of Ukraine, stern moral pronouncements by President Biden and other Western leaders imply that the West thinks Russia is listening to us and values the hope of staying in our good graces.  From what I can see, Russian diplomacy has been exceedingly busy building up its global networks with non-Western powers and probably prioritizes those Asian, African, and Latin American audiences, since these are the people who populate the future home of Russia's international relations.  To the latter audiences, Russia is insulated by its on-the-ground involvement and economic mutuality.  Russia has wisely set the stage so the West can cut Moscow out but the developing world cannot.  If Moscow strains to win back the West's approval, it will be a waste of time with little chance of success, so it makes more sense for Russian leaders to pick their moves based on how they come across in places like Mumbai, Johannesburg, Shanghai, and Fortaleza.

The West has overplayed economic power and underestimated social affinity.

The United States seems to have overestimated her ability to dominate the world through non-military (mostly economic) means.  When the CIA was formed from the OSS just after World War II, Russia, China, and the United States were allies coming out of the carnage of the thirties and forties.  They envisioned a world that would not settle its differences with conventional ground, naval, or air wars.

Nuclear weapons would turn military armaments into an abstraction, part of psychological operations but not instruments that would be realistically used in battle.  The growth of the United Nations and other NGOs offered countries the hope of diplomacy as a nonviolent outlet for international frustration and aggression.  The boom in intelligence and covert operations guaranteed that hegemons like the United States could impose their will on misbehaving nations through diplomatic or intelligence channels.  They could isolate, ostracize, or sanction bad players on the world stage. They could send in spies to subvert the ill intent of bad players, even fomenting revolutions or assassinations.

But one thing stands out now: since World War II, the United States' lack of success in complex and conventional warfare does exact a serious toll.  The fleeting success of quick operations like the 1989 invasion of Panama cannot outweigh the blows of Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan.  The Korean War ended with a supposed armistice and North Korea still intact, posing an ever-present threat to South Korea.  Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan all saw the United States invade and then withdraw without having achieved our goals.  The consuming costs and exhausting strains on human assets have weakened our military to the point that we would have trouble in open combat against Russia and its allies.

It is one thing to engage in diplomatic and economic maneuvers as a comfortable preference.  Quite another thing is to be stuck with these effeminate forms of nonviolent warfare because everyone knows you lost a twenty-year war in Afghanistan and don't have the guts to engage in violent conflict.  Russia can see the difference.  And it has become clear that the Biden administration had far too much confidence in the nonmilitary means to stagger Putin.  The sanctions seem to have hurt for a moment, then Russia landed back on its feet.  I can see why, after reading so many articles detailing the elaborate work Russia has done since 2000 to insulate itself from sanctions and financial hostage-taking.  Diplomatic isolation has not worked at this point because the number of countries willing to isolate Putin is dwarfed by the number of countries who prefer to continue trading with Russia as they always have.

Meanwhile, the United States has assumed that its status as a liberal democracy would win over the rest of the world.  It is as if we in the USA forget that all the controversies we read about in America are common knowledge around the world.  They know that many people in the United States believe that the election of 2020 was stolen.  They know about cancel culture, Big Tech colluding with one political party, the impeachment kangaroo courts, Black Lives Matter, domestic spying, and censorship in schools and colleges.  They see many things to envy in the United States, but our designer label of "liberal democracy" does not close the deal necessarily.  We attract immigrants from every country in the world, but most nationals of those countries still live there, so the admiration immigrants feel for us is not a universal feeling held by their peers in the home country.

When the G doors close, other bricks open.

A review of the international relations scholarship provides us with an intriguing arc from 2001 to now.  Today, ironically, BRIC and G8 no longer exist.  In their place are BRICS and G7.  In 2009, the original BRIC foursome decided to take ownership of the name, and they formed an interregional partnership.  The following year, they inducted a fifth member, South Africa.

Four years after BRIC became BRICS, the G8 became the G7.  Why did the G8 lose one member?  The year was 2014, and Russia was sanctioned, then kicked out of the power club because of its invasion of Crimea.  Therefore, eight years ago, a line was drawn between two economic realms: one clearly led by the United States, rich, heavily industrialized, and united by the Bretton Woods financial system, the other led largely by China, but also by India and Russia in their own way, more modest in consumption, on their way to development but not quite there yet, and — quite significantly — united in little beyond their common feeling that they needed to create an alternative system to Bretton Woods.

BRICS has been projected to buoy four more emerging economies known as MINT: Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey, the grouping Razia Khan dubs "the next generation of developing economies that will achieve great importance" (14).

While we were not paying attention, Russia responded to the 2014 sanctions by working with BRICS, MINT, and others to form development banks as a more attractive alternative to the IMF and World Bank.  Russians have formed regional alliances that tend to sweep away ideological strictures in favor of practical relationships of mutual benefit.  A lot of the world doesn't mind.

I would recommend taking the time to look through the articles listed at the end of this essay.  It may scare you, but Russia has been thorough and thoughtful about carving out an alternative universe where the dollar is not supreme, the United States can't tell people what to do, and countries can engage in international relations without the tiresome burden of post-Renaissance European colonialism.  It is fascinating that emerging economies that share so little have been able to build what they have built.  In denouncing Russia with such vigor and cutting it off from the world we know, we may have played right into Russia's hands, giving Putin the right prompt to cut us off from the world we don't know — the world of bricks and mint.


Barbieri, Giovanni. "Beyond Ideology: A Reassessment of Regionalism and Globalism in IR Theory, Using China as a Case Study." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Élise Féron, Jyrki Käkönen, and Gabriel Rached, 1st ed., 225–52. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.15.

Bridle, Richard, and Anna Geddes. "CASE STUDY: SOUTH AFRICA: Beyond Fossil Fuels: Fiscal Transition in BRICS." International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep22016.

Garg, Vibhuti, and Anna Geddes. "CASE STUDY: INDIA: Beyond Fossil Fuels: Fiscal Transition in BRICS." International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep22014.

Gerasimchuk, Ivetta, and Yuliia Oharenko. "CASE STUDY: RUSSIA: Beyond Fossil Fuels: Fiscal Transition in BRICS." International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep22015.

Gerasimchuk, Ivetta, Kjell Kühne, Joachim Roth, Anna Geddes, Yuliia Oharenko, Richard Bridle, and Vibhuti Garg. "Clean Energy Transition Versus Fossil Fuel Path Dependence." Beyond Fossil Fuels: Fiscal Transition in BRICS. International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep21911.5.

Khan, Razia. "An Extra Strong MINT." The World Today 70, no. 1 (2014): 12–18. http://www.jstor.org/stable/24640739.

Kühne, Kjell, and Joachim Roth. "Beyond Fossil Fuels: Fiscal Transition in BRICS." International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD), 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep22013.

McDonald, Terry, and Benjamin Klasche. "Foot in the Door: China's Investments in the Arctic Region." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Élise Féron, Käkönen, and Gabriel Rached, 1st ed., 201–22. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.14.

Mikhaylenko, E. B., and I. M. Adami. "Coping with the Changing World Order: The Case of Russia." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Élise Féron, Jyrki Käkönen, and Gabriel Rached, 1st ed., 157–78. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.12.

Muresan, Arina, and Philani Mthembu, eds. "Outcomes from the 11th BRICS Summit 2019." Brazil's 2019 Chairship of the BRICS: Charting a Course for 2020. Institute for Global Dialogue, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep25335.5.

Muresan, Arina. "Understanding the Role of the BRICS Partnership: Strategic Ways Forward." South Africa in the World 2020: Pragmatism versus Ideology. Institute for Global Dialogue, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep30587.9.

Naidu, Sanusha, Chisola Chembe, Jesuloba Ilesanmi, Remofiloe Lobakeng, and Simphiwe Mongwe. "BRICS under Pressure." Edited by Arina Muresan and Philani Mthembu. South Africa in the World Navigating a Changing Global Order. Institute for Global Dialogue, 2020. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep25336.11.

Naik, Shraddha. "The Emergence of BRICS: An Extension of Interregionalism to the Global South." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Élise Féron, Jyrki Käkönen, and Gabriel Rached, 1st ed., 61–82. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.8.

Naude, Bianca. "Regionalism as Resistance?: South Africa's Utopia of Souths." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Élise Féron, Jyrki Käkönen, and Gabriel Rached, 1st ed., 105–30. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.10.

PRINSLOO, CYRIL. "Bolsonaro and the BRICS: Bull in a China Shop?" South African Institute of International Affairs, 2019. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep25947.

Prys-Hansen, Miriam, and Detlef Nolte. "BRICS Und IBSA: Die Clubs Der Aufsteigenden Mächte Verlieren an Glanz." German Institute of Global and Area Studies (GIGA), 2016. http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep21163.

Rached, Gabriel. "BRICS and the Emergent Countries in the Twenty-First Century: Discussing Contemporary Perspectives." In Revisiting Regionalism and the Contemporary World Order: Perspectives from the BRICS and Beyond, edited by Gabriel Rached, Élise Féron, and Jyrki Käkönen, 1st ed., 83–104. Verlag Barbara Budrich, 2019. https://doi.org/10.2307/j.ctvr00xjn.9.

Ujvari, Balazs. BRICS Bloc(k) Rising? European Union Institute for Security Studies (EUISS), 2015, http://www.jstor.org/stable/resrep06761.

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