It is rather difficult to assess the significance of the BRICS and SCO summits held in Ufa on 8-10 July immediately, and this is evidenced by the barrage of relatively similar (though essentially true) comments. Most of the commentators are drawing attention to the fairly external, essentially symbolic, aspects. It is difficult to argue against statements that the BRICS and the SCO together are forming a new centre of power in opposition to the unipolar world order, for example, but what does this mean in practice?
Neither the SCO, much less the BRICS, are military and political alliances, so there is no point talking about some kind of Asian NATO and even less point talking about a transcontinental one. Yet both organisations, for all their differences related to organisational structure, membership and agenda, are a real alternative to the global West with all its institutions, including NATO.
It is appropriate to recall the classics of Marxism-Leninism, which said that «politics is the concentrated expression of economy». From this point of view, specific steps to create a new financial architecture independent of institutions established under the Bretton Woods system that ensure the monopoly position of the US dollar are far more important than political declarations. When the idea of a BRICS bank was first raised a couple of years ago, many tried to declare it utopian and even ridiculed it. Now, however, it has not only acquired a concrete organisational and financial outline, but the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank is being set up at the same time without the involvement of the US. At the SCO summit, the idea was raised of setting up a bank for this organisation as well, and the countries of both organisations are increasingly switching to mutual payments in national currencies.
Although it is currently unlikely that even all these institutions will be unable to really shake off the monopoly of the IMF and the World Bank in the next few years, it should be remembered that mighty oaks from little acorns grow. And these acorns have not just been thrown into the soil – their first shoots are already starting to appear.
More specifically, I would like to focus on one thing that happened in Ufa, and that is the start of India and Pakistan’s accession to the SCO. There is undoubtedly also a symbolic aspect to this (long-awaited) event: the three great powers of Asia uniting in a single organisation realises the ideas of the late Yevgeny Primakov on the geopolitical axis ‘Moscow-Delhi-Beijing’. But the importance of this step goes far beyond political symbolism.
Let us turn, once again, to economic specifics. As a great Asian (and global) power, India could be regarded as an island nation in a sense: it is surrounded by sea on three sides, the north and north-east are restricted by the world’s highest mountain system, and the north-west borders Pakistan, relations with which have left much to be desired throughout nearly the whole of its 70 years of independence. The result: with India’s enormous interest in Russia and Central Asia’s markets and raw materials, the lack of infrastructure is stopping current potential being used to the full. Figures such as trade turnover between Russia and India in 2014 (less than $10 billion) speak for themselves – they are simply laughable.
On 8 May 2015, during Chinese president Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow to celebrate the 70th anniversary of Victory in the Great Patriotic War, Russia and China made a landmark decision to join together two integrated projects – the Eurasian Economic Union and the Chinese Silk Road Economic Belt project (One Belt, One Road (OBOR)). India joining the SCO means that these two projects, the main thrust of which is from the east to the west, would be supplemented with the long-cherished but not yet fully operational North-South International Transport Corridor project (from India across the sea to the Port of Chabahar in Iran and then on via the road and railway system to Afghanistan, Central Asia, the South Caucasus, Russia and Northern Europe). Thus a closed infrastructure system would be created in the vast area from Northern Europe to South Asia and from the Mediterranean to the Far East capable of increasing trade turnover between all the countries whose territory it covers many times over.
And when (I do not think there is any point in saying «if») this system becomes a reality (the recent agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme and the future lifting of sanctions against Iran will give additional impetus to the project’s realisation), it will be possible to say that a workable integrated alliance is being created in the vast expanse of Eurasia, not just an alternative to what exists at present (including the European Union), but probably something even more attractive.
It stands to reason that they cannot understand this in Washington, so it is reasonable to expect attempts to undermine the situation in one or more of the countries making up the links of these integrated chains and stage coups in them along the lines of the colour revolutions. But even Washington strategists must understand that the idea of Russia, China and India is by no means Georgia or even Ukraine. The fact that the three great Asian powers have a common interest will serve as a reliable guarantee against any attempts at outside intervention.