Top diplomats from BRICS countries called for a "rebalancing" of the global order during talks in South Africa on Thursday, as the bloc seeks a larger voice in the international arena.
Foreign ministers from the five-nation grouping of Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa met in Cape Town for a two-day conference overshadowed by the fallout from the war in Ukraine.
"Our gathering must send out a strong message that the world is multipolar, that it is rebalancing and that old ways cannot address new situations," India's Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar said during opening remarks.
Russia's invasion of Ukraine has largely isolated Moscow on the international stage, pushing it to seek closer ties with China and others, including South Africa.
Pretoria, which says it wants to stay neutral over the war but is accused by critics of tilting towards the Kremlin, has long advocated for BRICS to act as a counterbalance to a western dominated international order.
"Our vision of BRICS is for our partnership to provide global leadership in a world fractured by competition, geopolitical tension, inequality, and deteriorating global security," South African Foreign Minister Naledi Pandor told the meeting.
"Our discussions today will therefore focus on opportunities... strengthening and transforming global governance systems".
- 'Stop Putin! Stop the war!' -
The talks precede a heads of state summit in August, which is proving problematic for host South Africa, due to the possible attendance of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Putin is the target of an International Criminal Court (ICC) arrest warrant over accusations that Russia unlawfully deported Ukrainian children.
A member of the ICC, Pretoria would be expected to make the arrest if Putin sets foot in the country.
On Thursday, Pandor reiterated that Putin, like all other leaders, has been invited, adding the government was looking at its "legal options".
Meanwhile, outside the hotel where the meeting was held, about a dozen protesters with Ukrainian flags and traditional clothes chanted "Stop Putin! Stop the war!"
Some held signs depicting Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, with the words "child murderer" in blood-red letters.
"It is difficult to see that South Africa, which has such a strong stand on children's rights, is shaking the hand of a person who is part of these systemic war crimes against Ukrainian children," Dzvinka Kachur, 41, a member of the Ukrainian association of South Africa, said.