Putin to hold talks with the leaders of China and India at his first summit since the Wagner uprising

NEW DELHI (AP) — President Vladimir Putin will attend his first multilateral summit this week since an armed rebellion rocked Russia, as part of a rare international grouping in which his country still enjoys support.

Leaders will meet virtually on Tuesday for a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security group founded by Russia and China to counter Western alliances from East Asia to the Indian Ocean.

This year’s event is hosted by India, which joined in 2017. It’s the latest opportunity for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to showcase the country’s growing global influence.

So far, the group has focused on deepening security and economic cooperation, the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, the fight against climate change and the situation in Afghanistan after the takeover of power of the Taliban in 2021. When foreign ministers met in India last month, Russia’s war on Ukraine barely featured in their public remarks, but the fallout for developing countries on food security and energy remain a concern for the group, according to analysts.

The forum is more important than ever to Moscow, which is keen to show that the West has failed to isolate it. The group includes the four Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan, in a region where Russian influence runs deep. Others include Pakistan, which joined in 2017, and Iran, which is expected to join on Tuesday. Belarus is also in the running for membership.

“This SCO meeting is truly one of the few global opportunities Putin will have to project his strength and credibility,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute.

None of the member countries has condemned Russia in UN resolutions, opting instead to abstain. China has sent an envoy to mediate between Russia and Ukraine, and India has repeatedly called for a peaceful resolution to the conflict.

For Putin personally, the summit represents an opportunity to show he is in control after a short-lived insurgency by Wagner mercenary leader Yevgeny Prigozhin.

“Putin will want to reassure his partners that he is still in charge and leave no doubt that the challenges to his government have been crushed,” said Tanvi Madan, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

India announced in May that the summit would be held online rather than in person like last year in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where Putin posed for photos and dined with other leaders.

For New Delhi at least, the prospect of hosting Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping just two weeks after Modi was graced with a lavish state visit by US President Joe Biden would be less than ideal.

After all the fanfare Modi received from US leaders during his recent visit, “it would have been too early (for India) to welcome Chinese and Russian leaders,” Kugelman said.

India’s relations with Moscow remained strong throughout the war; it has recovered record quantities of Russian crude and depends on Moscow for 60% of its defense material. At the same time, the United States and its allies have aggressively courted India, which it sees as a counterbalance to China’s growing ambitions.

One of India’s top priorities in the forum is to balance its ties with West and East, with the country also hosting the Group of 20 Major Economies summit in September. It is also a platform for New Delhi to engage more deeply in Central Asia.

“India prides itself on this type of foreign policy where it rolls and deals with everyone at the same time,” said Derek Grossman, Indo-Pacific analyst at the RAND Corporation.

New Delhi, observers say, will seek to protect its own interests at the summit. He will likely emphasize the need to combat what he calls ‘cross-border terrorism’ – a dig in Pakistan, which India accuses of arming and training rebels fighting for independence from controlled Kashmir Indian or its integration into Pakistan, a charge that Islamabad denies.

It may also underscore the need to respect territorial integrity and sovereignty – a charge often directed at its other rival, China. India and China have been locked in an intense three-year standoff involving thousands of troops stationed along their disputed border in the eastern region of Ladakh.

Analysts say China, seeking to position itself as a global force, is becoming a dominant player in forums like the SCO, where interest in full membership from countries like Myanmar, Turkey and the Afghanistan has grown in recent years.

“The limit with the SCO is that China and Russia are trying to make it an anti-Western group, and that doesn’t fit with India’s independent foreign policy,” Madan said.

The SCO could also prove difficult for Washington and its long-term allies.

“For countries uncomfortable with the West and their foreign policies, the SCO is a welcome alternative, mainly because of the roles that Russia and China play. … I think it shows how this group could be relevant and of concern to a number of Western capitals, especially if it continues to grow,” Kugelman said.

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