BRICS foreign ministers asserted their bloc's ambition to compete with Western powers on Thursday, but their discussions in South Africa were overshadowed by concerns that Russia's president would be detained if he attended an August summit.
South Africa's foreign minister, Naledi Pandor, stated that the country was considering its options if Vladimir Putin, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court (ICC), attended the BRICS summit in Johannesburg.
Theoretically, as a member of the ICC, South Africa would be required to arrest Vladimir Putin, and Pandor was inundated with queries about this as she arrived for the first round of negotiations with representatives from Brazil, Russia, India, and China.
"The answer is that the president (Cyril Ramaphosa) will designate South Africa's final position. At present, invitations have been extended to all (BRICS) chiefs of state," she said.
Later, the ministers sidestepped a barrage of Putin-related queries at a press conference.
In March, the ICC accused Putin of committing a war crime by forcibly expelling Ukrainian children from Russian-occupied territory. Moscow refutes the claims. In January, South Africa invited Putin.
Putin has not confirmed his intentions, and the Kremlin has only stated that Russia will participate at the "appropriate level."
The ministers aimed to highlight their desire to expand their influence in a multipolar world.
Subrahmanyam Jaishankar of India stated that the concentration of economic power "leaves too many nations at the mercy of too few" and that global decision-making, including the United Nations Security Council, must be reformed.
"Old methods cannot be applied to novel situations. We are a sign of transformation. "We must take action," he stated.
BRICS was once regarded as a loose association of disparate emerging economies, but in recent years it has taken on a more concrete form, initially driven by Beijing and, since the beginning of the Ukraine war in February 2022, with added impetus from Moscow.
The bloc established the New Development Bank in 2015, but it has ceased funding projects in Russia in compliance with sanctions imposed by Western nations in response to the invasion of Ukraine.
According to Pandor, a senior executive of the bank briefed the ministers on "the potential use of alternative currencies to the currently traded international currencies."
She stated that the objective was to "ensure that we do not fall victim to sanctions that have secondary effects on countries that are uninvolved in the issues that led to these unilateral sanctions."
The ministers also discussed prospective plans to admit new club members. Pandor stated that additional effort was required to make this a reality, and she hoped that a report on the subject would be available by the August summit.
China's Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ma Zhaoxu, stated that his country was pleased with the prospect of more countries joining BRICS because it would increase the bloc's influence and give it more ability to serve the interests of developing nations.
The BRICS bloc "was inclusive... in stark contrast to the small circle of some countries," he said, believing that the expansion of BRICS will benefit the BRICS nations.
On Friday, the Iranian Foreign Minister, Hossein Amir-Abdollahian, and his Saudi counterpart, Prince Faisal bin Farhan Al Saud, were in Cape Town to participate in the BRICS meeting.
The two nations, along with Venezuela, Argentina, Algeria, and the United Arab Emirates, are among those who have either formally applied or expressed interest in joining BRICS, according to officials.