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The impact of the war in Ukraine on the BRICS: Six takeaways from an expert discussion

Article by Dr. Aijan Sharshenova

August 3, 2023

The impact of the war in Ukraine on the BRICS: Six takeaways from an expert discussion

The Russian invasion has wreaked havoc upon Ukraine and caused considerable disturbances to both global and regional politics. Debates on the future of multilateralism, multipolarity, the relevance of international organisations, the validity of international law, and the fairness of the current international political system have gained a new level of urgency. While Western governments and societies seem to demonstrate various degrees of support to Ukraine, the rest of the world is split into many factions.


The Foreign Policy Centre and the Centre for Russian, European and Eurasian Studies (CREES) at the University of Birmingham, in cooperation with the OSCE Network of Think Tanks and Academic Institutions recently organised an expert webinar to examine one of the under-appreciated aspects of the Russian war against Ukraine – its impact on the BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China, and South Africa) individually and as an organisation.


Chaired by Stewart McDonald, SNP MP for Glasgow South and Vice-Chair of the Ukraine APPG (All Party Parliamentary Group), the webinar featured a line-up of international experts: Dr Aijan Sharshenova, Research Fellow at the FPC and Bishkek-based Political Analyst; Dr Wang Yi, Assistant Professor, Department of Political Science and International Studies, University of Birmingham; Dr Anuradha Chenoy, Adjunct Professor, Jindal School of Global Affairs, O.P. Jindal Global University, New Delhi; and Elizabeth Sidiropoulos, Chief Executive of the South African Institute of International Affairs.


The panel explored how the BRICS countries have been impacted, to differing degrees, by the disruption in global supply chains after Russia’s invasion and the inflation of food and energy prices. They discussed how the war is seen in BRICS’ states and societies, and which narratives seem to dominate domestic discourse on the war. The majority of, if not all, the BRICS have abstained from taking definite sides in the conflict and repeatedly called for a resolution of the war through peaceful means. All have long insisted on the need for actual multipolarity in the world – something that has been voiced by Russian President Putin too. While they are not openly supporting Russia, there are some subtle and occasionally not-so-subtle indications that some of the BRICS might sympathise with Ukraine but also do not share Western narratives that blame only Russia for the war.


Based on this very engaging and insightful conversation, six takeaway points can be identified:


  • Russia’s war in Ukraine has put the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) in a complicated geopolitical position. Whilst they might commiserate with the fate of Ukraine, they still have to align with or, at least, avoid an open confrontation with Moscow. In addition, the war has rekindled domestic debates on the future of the Russian language, on national self-identification, and the shared past with Russia in some of the CIS countries.
  • The war in Ukraine has further complicated China’s already tense relations with the West. At the same time, mainland China’s potential aggression towards Taiwan has come under the spotlight too, prompting further militarisation and increased military spending in a variety of countries in East and Southeast Asia. Domestically, Chinese public opinion seems to align with the Russian discourses of denazification of Ukraine. However, there is a growing number of people in China who sympathise with Ukraine.
  • India is committed to the principles of multilateral cooperation and multipolarity based on sovereignty of independent states and rules-based order. India tries to uphold neutrality on the matters of the war, but does not share widespread Western narratives. Instead, India believes in Russia’s legitimate security interests in the region against the background of its long-standing opposition to NATO’s expansion prospects. In addition, India has benefitted from a significant increase in trade with Russia, which mostly includes petroleum products.
  • South Africa is committed to multilateralism too. The current debates in the South African domain often portray the war in Ukraine as a proxy war, where Russia is seen to be protecting its legitimate security interests. However, South Africa also prefers to stay at least formally non-aligned even though such a position is complicated by the country’s recent actions and declarations. As a participant of the International Criminal Court (ICC), South Africa has the obligation to execute the arrest warrants issued by the ICC with regards to Russian President Putin. At the same time, South Africa participated in the joint maritime military exercise with China and Russia in February 2023, and the country’s minister of defence paid a visit to Moscow to participate in an international security conference.[1]
  • Brazil, as the geographically most removed BRICS country from Russia, has continued with its regular non-alignment foreign policy. However, Brazil also seems to question the current unipolar political system led by the USA.
  • All BRICS countries, with the exception of Russia, have at least formally called for peaceful resolution of the conflict.


More information on this event – The impact of war in Ukraine on the BRICS – co-organised by the FPC and CREES, can be found here.


[1] BBC News, Why is South Africa’s navy joining exercises with Russia and China?, February 2023,; Vicky Stark, South Africa’s Defense Minister in Russia for Security Conference, VOA News, August 2022,

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