Russia outlines its vision of a ‘world majority’ to rival the West
Moscow last week hosted its annual two-day forum known as the Primakov Readings, which is organized by the Primakov Institute of World Economy and International Relations. The main theme of the forum was “Transformation of the World Order: The Eurasian Dimension.” Among the participants were Russian presidential adviser Yuri Ushakov, Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, Commonwealth of Independent States Executive Committee Chairman Sergei Lebedev and other Russian and foreign scientists and politicians.
One of the most frequently heard terms at this year’s forum was the concept of “world majority” (in English, the term is expressed as “global majority,” but many Russian translations use this wording). This denotes a non-Western group of countries that the Russian authorities hope will be able to build a “new, fairer and more democratic system of international relations.” Given the strategic importance of this forum, which is commonly joined by well-recognized speakers who shape Russia’s foreign policies, what conclusions can be drawn from these discussions of the preferred world order for Moscow (and its allies)?
Ushakov noted that “the theme of this year’s forum is very relevant — ‘horizons of post-globalization.’ It is obvious that the model of globalization, which was formed largely by Western states — naturally, in their own interests — has outlived its usefulness and is in a deep crisis.” Further, according to President Vladimir Putin, “a new, fairer (system) is emerging … a democratic system of international relations that meets the needs of the world majority.”
Expanding on the logic of the concept of “world majority,” Ushakov argued that, in the system of international relations that is currently being built, a more significant role will be played by countries that are “committed to their sovereignty and independent foreign policy.” “It is these countries … that account for the majority of the world economy and the overwhelming majority of the planet’s population,” he noted.
Importantly, he added that the most important instrument of global governance, the vanguard of the “world majority,” are the BRICS member states and Saudi Arabia, Argentina, Egypt, Ethiopia, Iran and the UAE, six countries that will join the bloc from Jan. 1, 2024. However, Ushakov did not specify which countries outside of this association might also be included in the “world majority.” Instead, he simply offered the impression that, in Russian eyes, the term’s meaning is largely “non-Western.”
In a similar vein, Lavrov concentrated on the development of multipolarity. He said: “Multipolar systems, if we look back in history, are not a new phenomenon. In one form or another, they existed before. For example, during the ‘concept of European powers’ of the 19th century or between the two world wars of the 20th century.”
The Russian view of the ‘world majority’ particularly involves the Middle East and the Islamic world.
The Russian foreign minister further clarified the fundamental difference between these and the current “edition” of multipolarity, arguing that this was a chance to acquire truly planetary scale, based on the basic principle of the UN Charter, which is the sovereign equality of states. Before, decisions affecting the whole world had been made or controlled by a small group of countries, dominated by the Western community, for obvious reasons.
Today, Lavrov stated, new players representing the Global South and the East have come to the forefront of world politics. He enthused that their number is growing, stating: “We justifiably call them the world majority. Not in words, but in deeds, they strengthen their sovereignty in resolving pressing issues, demonstrating independence and putting their national interests at the forefront, and not someone else’s whims.”
As one example, he cited a statement by his Indian counterpart, S. Jaishankar, that “the world is much more than Europe.” Lavrov concluded: “It is clear that the meaning of this statement is that the world is much larger than the West. Russia consistently advocates for the democratization of interstate communication and for a more equitable distribution of global benefits.”
Lavrov also developed the idea that the fact that the world is changing can be seen in the many examples of multilateral diplomacy. Among the most striking evidence is the cooperation between the BRICS nations. In addition to BRICS and the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, Lavrov included in the new international structure the Eurasian Economic Union, the Collective Security Treaty Organization and the CIS, as well as the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, the African Union, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, the Gulf Cooperation Council, the Arab League and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. The last three might be interesting examples, showing how the Russian view of the “world majority” particularly involves the Middle East and the Islamic world.
Even without a clear definition of the term, this new concept has become very popular within Russia’s narratives. Questions remain about how best to summarize it and why it is only now appearing on Russia’s foreign policy horizon.
In an article last month, Valdai Discussion Club program director Timofei Bordachev explained: “Russians love to invoke the concept of the world majority — a set of countries in the world that link their development with the main trends of globalization, but are capable of expressing their own views on fair forms on international order.” He wrote that this concept had previously been expressed “rather restrainedly,” as Western countries played the key role and were able to offer fairly optimal solutions for everyone. However, the ongoing crisis in the Middle East might open a new chapter in how the US and Europe are perceived in the world order. So, this could be the turning point that Russia aims to use as an opportunity to further attract and unite states as part of a new understanding.
To sum up, Russia’s “world majority” includes itself along with the Global South and the East, which together constitute the majority of the world’s economy and its population. This is briefed as standing in opposition to the “collective West,” presented as an entrenched elitism. Finally, Russia, as Ushakov concluded in his speech, “contributes to the formation of such a world order and is the locomotive of this objective process.”
This course has been a preoccupation in Russia’s foreign policies, especially since the start of the Ukraine war, as it offers an opportunity to secure a leading role amid a storm of political uncertainty. The Middle East war has also been seen by Russia as a special opportunity to broadcast the concept from the biggest intellectual platforms of foreign policy formation.
• Dr. Diana Galeeva is an academic visitor to Oxford University. X: @Dr_GaleevaDiana