Could Lithium-Rich Bolivia Be Next On BRICS’ Membership List? Russia Seems to Think So

“BRICS is an organization, not a military alliance. It is simply a platform to agree on positions and adopt mutually acceptable decisions that are based on sovereignty, independence and mutual respect.”

When Javier Milei won the presidential elections in Argentina late last year, it was clear there would be big consequences, including of a geopolitical nature. For a start, it signaled the end of Argentina’s membership of the BRICS+ alliance before it had even begun. Milei’s sole interest is to realign Argentina with the West, particularly the United States and Israel. To that end, his government has applied to become a global partner of NATO. It has granted control of the Argentine stretch of the Paraná river to the US Army Engineer Corps, announced a new US-Argentine joint naval base in Tierra de Fuego and is even contributing to Ukraine’s war effort.

As I noted in my Nov. 21 article, The Far-Reaching Implications of Javier “the Wig” Milei’s Election Victory in Argentina, “it will be interesting to see whether or not the [BRICS] founding members opt to invite another Latin American country to replace Argentina, with the two most obvious candidates being Bolivia and Venezuela.” That may already be in the works.

Just two weeks ago, the left-leaning government of Colombia, a long-standing US client state with at least seven military bases on its territory, expressed an interest in joining the BRICS+ grouping. Colombia is not only aligned with the West; it is NATO’s only “global partner” in Latin America. After meeting with Brazil’s President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, Colombia’s President Gustavo Petro unveiled his plans to apply for BRICS+ membership “as soon as possible”. President Lula welcomed the news saying he will do all he can to promote the application.

Petro is not alone. Last week, Bolivia’s Prime Minister Luis Arce announced his government’s application to join BRICS+:

It’s a great opportunity for our countries… Bolivia has a great deal to offer with its natural resources, but the exchange of technology and development is also important among BRICS countries. That’s why I believe that [joining the ranks of the BRICS bloc] is the best move we can make.

On Friday (April 26), Bolivia’s Foreign Minister Celinda Sosa was in Moscow for a meeting with her Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, where she reaffirmed Bolivia’s interest in joining the grouping. “The BRICS,” she said in a press conference after the meeting, “offers an alternative way of contributing and supporting fairer and more equitable development. This is a very important economic and commercial bloc, which is why Bolivia hopes to form part of it.”

An Important Step for Latin America

For Sosa, membership of BRICS+ would mean not only a big opportunity for Bolivia, but also an important step for Latin America in the creation of a more equitable and balanced international order. And Russia, she said, is a key driver in this process:

“Russia is very important for Bolivia because it is playing a leading role in the construction of a new, multipolar world.”

Russia is also one of the four original BRICs member countries alongside Brazil, India and China, and through Lavrov, it has lent its full support behind Bolivia’s membership bid:

“Russia supports Bolivia’s aspirations (to join the BRICS). In its role as president of the BRICS this year, Russia is interested in ensuring that the highest possible number of countries that apply to the bloc, either to become full members or to establish stable and permanent associations with it, receive a concrete positive response.”

This is not the first time that Moscow has discussed opening up BRICS membership to more Latin American countries (the only current member from the region is Brazil). During his opening speech at last year’s Russia-Latin America International Parliamentary Conference, Russian President Vladimir Putin encouraged the region’s countries to join. He was also at pains to emphasise that BRICS is not a “military alliance.” From Forbes (Spanish edition):

“BRICS is an organization, not a military alliance. It is simply a platform to agree on positions and adopt mutually acceptable decisions that are based on sovereignty, independence and mutual respect.”

[Putin] stressed that Russia assumes the BRICS… presidency next year and that it intends to do everything within its means to ensure that the international community sees the organisation as “a majority” not just because of the size of its population, but also due to “ its development prospects.”

In this regard, he announced that “Russia welcomes the wishes of a number of Latin American countries to join the activities of BRICS as full members as well as partners.”

Putin highlighted that the presence in Moscow of representatives of the legislatures and leaders of political parties, social organizations, experts and diplomats from the majority of Latin American countries “is further confirmation of the desire of the people of our countries to develop multifaceted and mutually beneficial cooperation.”

In the assembly hall at the House of Unions, the Russian leader assured that Moscow will do everything possible to promote cooperation between Latin America and the Eurasian Economic Union led by Russia.

Dozens of Applicants

The recently expanded BRICS alliance now accounts for around 35% of the global economy and has a combined population of around 3.5 billion people — equivalent to 45% of the planet’s inhabitants. More than three dozen other nations have expressed an interest in joining the group. Some have already formally submitted their applications, including Bolivia, Cuba, Venezuela, Algeria , Senegal, Turkey, Kazakhstan, Bahrain , Belarus, Burma, Thailand and Bangladesh.

One advantage of the BRICS, said Lavrov, is that it is broadly perceived as an alternative to the rules-based order imposed by the United States and its satellites through colonial and neocolonial practices. The Russian Foreign Minister also highlighted Bolivia’s support for Russia in the international arena including the neutral stance it has taken regarding the regarding the conflict in Ukraine.

Most Latin American countries have tried to maintain a largely neutral position on the conflict, initially condemning the war while refusing to endorse sanctions on Russia. They include the region’s four largest economies, Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Colombia, which last year categorically rejected US and EU requests to send weapons to Ukraine. That common front, of course, was shattered by the recent electoral triumphs of Milei in Argentina and Daniel Noboa in Ecuador, both of which have since offered to send Russian-made weapons to Ukraine.

“Bolivia is one of Russia’s priority and promising partners in Latin America and the Caribbean,” said Lavrov. “Bilateral ties have intensified significantly in almost all areas and are developing solidly.”

Bolivia has long enjoyed close ties with Russia. Russian companies operating in the Andean nation include Gazprom, which is part of a consortium for gas processing, and the Kremlin-owned Rosatom State Atomiс Energy Corporation, which is helping to build a nuclear research center in the city of El Alto. Last year, the two countries jointly announced a new trade transaction system aimed at reducing reliance on the US dollar and euro.

Bolivia has already spoken about its membership bid to two other founding BRICS members (Brazil and India) as well as South Africa, said Sosa. But it is not yet clear what the BRICS’ most important member, China, whose economy is larger than that of Russia, India, South Africa and Brazil combined, thinks on the matter.

“Opposing Hegemony and Bullying by Powerful Powers”

After her trip to Russia, Sosa made a three-day visit to Beijing where she met with the Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi. During the meeting, Wang called for greater coordination on multilateral strategies between Beijing and La Paz, both of which, he said, “share the same goals of opposing hegemony and bullying by powerful powers and upholding fairness and justice.” From the Chinese government’s Belt and Road portal:

Wang said that both sides should continue to strengthen political mutual trust; enhance exchanges and cooperation between the governments, legislatures and political parties of the two countries; strengthen exchange of governance experience; synergize development strategies; and tap into the potential for cooperation in new areas such as the digital economy, plateau agriculture, information and communication, and green development.

China and Bolivia should enhance coordination on multilateral strategies, jointly safeguard the purposes and principles of the UN Charter, and firmly safeguard the common interests of the Global South, said Wang, adding that China is willing to work together with Bolivia and other Latin American and Caribbean countries to promote the building of a China-Latin America community with a shared future.

Sosa noted that China is an important strategic partner for Bolivia, saying Bolivia hopes to upgrade cooperation with China in various fields such as economy and trade. Bolivia welcomes Chinese enterprises to invest and do business in the country.

According to Wang, Beijing is willing to take the China-Bolivia strategic partnership to a new level. He also said that China strongly supported Bolivia finding a development path suited to its national conditions, and resolutely opposed external forces interfering in its internal affairs — a key point given that Bolivia already suffered a US-supported coup d’état in 2019, is in the process of being encircled by US-aligned countries (Argentina, Ecuador and Peru) that have already flung open their doors to the prospect of US troop arrivals, and was recently accused by the Milei government of harbouring 700 members of the Iranian Revolutionary Guards.

But there was no mention in Beijing of Bolivia’s application for BRICS membership. Perhaps China is reluctant to open the books to another Latin American country following the embarrassing rejection of Argentina’s Milei government at the beginning of this year. There’s also the fact that Bolivia has a miniscule economy. At $44bn, it’s GDP is less than a tenth the size of Argentina’s; its population is a mere 12.8 million; and, GDP per capita comes in at just $3,437. Or maybe it’s just keeping its cards close to its chest.

But Bolivia has something that no other country does: the world’s largest salt flat, Salar de Uyuni, which is home to the world’s largest known deposits of lithium. Together with Chile and Argentina, the country forms the so-called “lithium triangle”, the largest global deposit of so-called “white gold”. In the last couple of years Argentina’s lithium has drawn the attention of the US military, government and corporations, including, of course, Tesla.

By contrast, Bolivia last year sealed significant lithium deals involving two Chinese companies, the giant battery maker CATL and Citic Guoan Group, and one Russian firm, Rosatom, and a combined $2.8bn in investment commitments. Until now, La Paz has struggled to increase industrial production or develop commercially feasible reserves. Whether that will change with this increased commitment from China and Russia remains to be seen. What is clear is that the race for white gold in South America’s lithium triangle is picking up.


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  1. TomDority

    I wonder how much of the missing moneys from our MIC budgets and other adventures in Ukraine and elsewhere times 200 .. ends up in the bank accounts and budgets of the many countries around the world….to sway and gain dominion for US economic interests at the expense of democracy(tm), freedom(tm) et-al.
    I guess, when you put finance at the tip of your ‘Department of War’ errr ahhh the Defense Department. Then I guess what goes-around comes-around. Throw in some red scare, a little xenophobia, religiosity, torture, fear, strong man mentality et-al and mix well with “your either for us or against us” binary thinking – turn up the heat in the oven and bake until humanity is burnt to a crisp –

  2. The Rev Kev

    If I were Bolivia, I would start coup-proofing myself right now. Pass a law like the US FARA Act saying that all NGOs have to show any foreign money going into their coffers. Invite the Wagners Group in to train the Bolivian army how to deal with incursions from certain neighouring countries. Bring the Chinese in to help build infrastructure and develop those Lithium mines to show ordinary Bolivians the benefit of joining the BRICS. I imagine that a lot of Central and South American nations are watching to see how Argentina and Ecuador do under direct US tutelage and if it plays out well for those countries. But Bolivia is going to have to watch their back in the coming years, especially if they get to go into BRICS.

  3. CA

    February 8, 2024

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  4. CA

    Could Lithium-Rich Bolivia Be Next On BRICS’ Membership List? Russia Seems to Think So

    — Nick Corbishley

    [ This is a terrific post. ]

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