Russia and the Conundrum of B(R)ICSAM

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It’s difficult situating Russia in the context of the BRICs and BRICSAM. Various articles seem to stumble in their effort to place Russia in the correct circle of influence. As far back as first CIGI Policy Brief in International Governance, (May, 2007) (the date tells you it’s not that long ago) Andy Cooper, CIGI Distinguished Fellow, tackled the curious place of Russia. The title of his piece raised the question of Russia’s leadership position – “The Logic of the B(R)ICSAM Model for G8 Reform.” Though the Brief focused principally on adequacey of the G7/8 governance, the rather unique term raised, not for the first time the place of Russia in the G7/8 as well as in BRICSAM. Russia evidences multiple identities. It is a member the P5 – the veto-wielding permanent members of the Security Council. But as the G7/8 name implies, it is not completely integrated into the G7. As Cooper notes, “Russia still is excluded from the key economic discussions within the G8 process, including those on currency matters. It is still more accurate to talk of a hybrid G7/8.”

Victoria Panova, a political analyst from the Moscow State Institute of International Relatios and a frequent contributor to the G8 Research Group at the University of Toronto, has provided a searching chapter on Russia for the Heligendamm Process plus O5 research project entitled, “Russia and Prospects of Further Evolution of the Heligendamm Dialogue Process with the G8.” In summarizing early on her view of Russia, Panova concludes: “Russia has difficulties in philosophical and geopolitical definitions of its place within the international structure, thus allowing for a variety of visions on necessary actions and strategies within the Russian political establishment and civil society. Although there is a preference for working through the western affiliated club, Russia’s geo-economic and socio-political development in the beginning of the 21st century predetermines lots of common features with the O5 block.” To some significant degree Russia is a global governanance “fence-sitter.” Russia showed reticence in inviting the O5 to the 2006 St. Petersburg G7/8 summit yet it has warmed to the HP process. As Panova points out Russia has focused less dramatically on a collective O5 and, with the possible exception of Mexico, has encouraged and strengthen bilateral policies with most of the O5 – especially China but also India, Brazil and South Africa.

Russia’s economic leverage has grown dramatically since the dark days of the 1990’s. Today Russia ranks as the 8th largest economy with a 2007 GDP (purchasing power parity) of about $2.07 trillion. This puts Russia substantially behind China at $7 trillion, and behind India at $3 trillion but well ahead of Brazil ($1.8 trillion) significantly ahead of Mexico and far far ahead of South Africa. But as Panova points out this Russian economy is highly dependant on a hydrocarbon economy.

On the diplomatic leverage front, and pointed out above, Russia is a P5 member and close to being a complete member of the G7. Yet Russia’s leadership has remained ambivalent. And on the question of “democratic” and where membership may require this characteristic, Russia has become belligerent but increasingly unable to establish it’s democratic bona fides. As Panova argues: “Although Russia today is sympathetic with the demands of the emerging powers of the Global South it doesn’t fully belong and share their needs. claimed by the latter group.” Attracted to the power anf influence of the G7, yet also attracted to the O5 and rhetorical support for the Global South. Russia seems to sit on the global governance fence.