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Andrey Baklanov, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Research Section, National Research University Higher School of Economics: Saudi Arabia's influence in the world will increase after joining BRICS

The expert spoke about the prospects opening up after the Kingdom's accession to the group

Andrey Baklanov, Head of the Middle East and North Africa Studies Section at the National Research University Higher School of Economics (HSE), graduated from the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO) of the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1969 and began working in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. From 2000 to 2005, he served as Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Russian Federation to Saudi Arabia. Since 2007, he has headed the Department of International Relations in the Federation Council, and in 2018 he served as Assistant to the First Deputy Chairman of the Federation Council Committee on Science, Education and Culture. Since 2019 – Professor, Head of the Research Section at the National Research University Higher School of Economics. He is the author of six books and more than 400 scientific papers and media publications. Awarded a II degree medal of the Order "For Merit to the Fatherland".

In an exclusive interview with TV BRICS, he spoke about what Saudi Arabia's entry into BRICS means and how it will affect the countries' co-operation.

On 1 January 2024, Saudi Arabia officially became a member of BRICS. How, in your opinion, will this affect the work of the association? What can this country do for the group?

There are two aspects to this. Firstly, Saudi Arabia is a very large, reputable and powerful country. It has approximately 18 per cent of the world's total reserves to move investments. That's a very large number. In addition, Saudi Arabia has more than 10 per cent of all oil production. For example, the Kingdom is home to the headquarters of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. So it's the flagship of the Islamic world.

Secondly, another headquarters is located in Riyadh, the headquarters of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). The BRICS group has significantly strengthened its potential in the political, trade, economic and investment spheres by accepting Saudi Arabia as a member.

What opportunities, including investment opportunities, do you think BRICS membership brings to Saudi Arabia?

It is no accident that Saudi Arabia joined BRICS. This is largely due to the investment and S&T aspects. The fact is that it has currently set two goals. The first is to become one of the ten most developed countries in the world in all respects. Joining BRICS will help meet this challenge. And the second, even more ambitious goal is to become one of the most authoritative in scientific and practical terms. Here too, the Kingdom assumes that it will be able to build up its scientific and technological capacity with the possibility of additional co-operation with countries within the association. It's very interesting for us, too.

Now there are extraordinary, prestigious, very beautiful objects in the territory of the country, in the design of which we should also take part. For example, the most modern city on Earth, Neom, is being built in the Kingdom. There is a concept of smart cities, it has already been implemented in many countries. What is being done in Saudi Arabia is a level above.

Do you think BRICS membership will help Saudi Arabia to accelerate its economic diversification and development?

This is what Saudi Arabia and the BRICS have united for. In this case, they also calculated the positives they would get from the co-operation. Of course, the Kingdom's influence in the world will increase because it has joined the gaining power of the union. The Saudis realise that this is an internal integration of the most promising countries in the world. And then, they are sympathetic to the association states, including Russia. This is very important and can give a big boost to real economic and scientific and technological processes.

Do you think it is possible to increase Saudi energy exports in exchange for opening up the Kingdom's markets to Chinese imports?

This task is practically solved. They've already got the exchange scheme worked out. Every year, the parties systematically analyse how trade is developing and do everything to boost it. In principle, the mechanism of "Chinese goods to the Saudi market at good prices in exchange for a reliable supply of energy to China" has been worked out. However, the parties want to move to a deeper productive co-operation where there is a synthesis in both technical and human communication. This is a new stage.

Do you think the Kingdom's presence in BRICS could mark a historic shift in international and trade relations within the association and in general?

I think that the admission of such a country, a reputable one with great connections in the Islamic world, will seriously change the situation within the association. We will open up new prospects for multilateral co-operation. It will also be a pull factor for other countries. Already, 30-40 states have been named as wanting to join the group. The presence of such a cautious and farsighted player as Saudi Arabia is a signal to many other countries that they should join. For the association, for all of us, this is very important and valuable.

You were Ambassador Extraordinary Plenipotentiary to Saudi Arabia from 2000 to 2005. What impressed you most about this country? Maybe some situation is memorable?

Before my work there, I knew Saudi history well, but when I arrived, I was struck by the difference between reality and what I had imagined. Great openness of the Saudis, willingness for sincere relations. They really appreciate us for respecting their religion. I was very pleased that they are always willing to dialogue. As for some episodes, the most striking is their assistance to the Russian side in March 2001 during the release of hostages who were on a plane hijacked by terrorists. The Saudis helped free the people, then they were put up in a lovely hotel and welcomed as guests. This moment showed the huge potential of our friendship, mutual understanding and largely predetermined further positive development of our relations.

Photo: screenshot of TV BRICS interview
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