NEW DELHI (AP) – President Vladimir Putin will attend his first multilateral summit this week after arming Russia as part of a rare international group in which his country still enjoys support.
The leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a group formed by Russia and China to defend Western alliances from East Asia to the Indian Ocean, will meet on Tuesday.
This year’s event is hosted by 2017 member India. It is the latest way for Prime Minister Narendra Modi to showcase the country’s growing global popularity.
The group has so far focused on deepening security and economic cooperation, including the fight against terrorism and drug trafficking, climate change and the situation in Afghanistan where the Taliban ousted the Taliban in 2015. Analysts say the decline in food and fuel security in developing countries, which was revealed in his public speech, is a concern for the group.
The forum is more important than ever for Moscow, which is eager to show that the West cannot stand aside. The group includes four Central Asian countries: Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. Others include Pakistan, which joined in 2017, and Iran, which is expected to join on Tuesday. Belarus is also in line for membership.
“This SCO meeting is really one of the few opportunities for Putin to project strength and credibility,” said Michael Kugelman, director of the Wilson Center’s South Asia Institute.
None of the member states condemned Russia in the resolutions of the United Nations, instead they chose to abstain. China has sent delegations to Russia and Ukraine to negotiate, and has repeatedly asked India to resolve the conflict peacefully.
For Putin personally, the meeting will provide an opportunity to show himself that he needs to control himself after the short-term resignation of Wagner’s mercenary commander-in-chief, Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“Putin wants to reassure his allies that he is still in power and there is no doubt that the challenges to his government have been crushed,” said Tanvi Madan, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
In May, India announced that the meeting would be held online instead of in person in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, where Putin posed for photos and had dinner with other leaders.
For New Delhi at least, the optics of hosting Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping two weeks after Modi was graced by US President Joe Biden’s visit will not be very good.
Of all the fanfare Modi received from US leaders during his recent visit, “It was too soon for India to welcome the leaders of China and Russia,” Kugelman said.
India’s relations with Moscow remained strong during the war. It has collected a record amount of Russian crude and relies on Moscow for 60% of its defense hardware. At the same time, the US and its allies have held tight to India as a counterbalance to China’s growing ambitions.
India’s priority at the forum is to balance relations with the West and the East, as the country hosts a summit of the Group of 20 leading economies in September. It is also a platform for New Delhi to engage more deeply with Central Asia.
Derek Grossman, an Indo-Pacific analyst at the RAND Corporation, said: “India is praised for this kind of foreign policy.
Observers said New Delhi will try to secure its own interests in the summit. It could emphasize the importance of fighting what it calls “cross-border terrorism” – a dig at Pakistan, which India has accused of arming and training rebels fighting for independence from Indian-controlled Kashmir or joining Pakistan, a charge Islamabad denies.
It could also emphasize the importance of respecting territorial integrity and sovereignty – a charge leveled at another rival, China. India and China have been embroiled in a bitter three-year standoff that has involved thousands of troops stationed along their disputed border in the eastern Ladakh region.
Analysts say China is seeking to position itself as a global power and is becoming a major player in forums such as the SCO, where interest in full membership from countries such as Myanmar, Turkey and Afghanistan has grown in recent years.
“The restriction on the SCO is that China and Russia are trying to turn it into an anti-Western group, and it is not compatible with India’s independent foreign policy,” said Madan.
The SCO could prove challenging for Washington and its allies in the long run.
“For countries that are uncomfortable with the West and their foreign policies, the SCO is a great option, mainly because of the role played by Russia and China. I think it shows how important and worrying this group can be for many Western capitals, especially if it continues to expand.”