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For the first time since the Wagner mercenary gang launched a mutiny in June, Russian President Vladimir Putin is poised to address a worldwide gathering.
On Tuesday, he will virtually join leaders from China, India, Pakistan, and four Central Asian countries for the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit.
This year, India will host the SCO summit, which comes only two weeks after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visited by US President Joe Biden for a state visit.
The gathering is expected to cover topics such as regional security, the economy, food security, climate change, and Afghanistan.
But, most crucially, the SCO summit will provide a forum for Mr. Putin to demonstrate that, despite the Ukraine conflict, he is still welcomed and heard on global platforms.
History of SCO Summit
The SCO was founded in 2001 by China, Russia, and four Central Asian countries as a counter-measure to the West’s dominance in the region. In 2017, India and Pakistan joined the group.
All SCO members, including Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan, have either abstained or voted against UN sanctions on Russia. It will be intriguing to observe if Mr Putin utilises the platform to indicate to the world that he is still powerful and in charge.
He may also warn the West against what he perceives as their meddling in Ukraine. And that may not sit well with Delhi.
India, which is hosting the event, would like to see actual results in the shape of commitments on anti-terrorism measures, commerce, climate change financing, drug trafficking, food security, and money laundering. Because the meeting is taking place online, bilateral agreements are not possible.
However, India is having a busy diplomatic year because it will host a G20 conference in September. The two forums have opposing goals and geopolitical relationships, which creates a significant problem for Delhi.
The SCO summit comes only days after the United States threw out the red carpet for Mr Modi’s official visit.
He inked big defence accords with the United States, but the joint statement also contained subtle references to Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s growing dominance in the Indo Pacific.
Many may see such dramatically different geopolitical interests as a diplomatic nightmare, but Delhi insists on demonstrating the power and independence of its foreign policy.
In terms of Russia, India appears to have persuaded the West that it cannot afford to sever its long-standing ties with Moscow.
India’s decision not to directly oppose Russia in the early days of the war drew criticism from its Western allies. But that has changed as Washington and other allies have reluctantly embraced Delhi’s position.
Despite Mr Modi’s recent efforts to diversify the portfolio, India still imports about half of its weapons needs from Russia.
Meanwhile, Mr Modi’s problem will be to handle the SCO summit’s severe divisions with China and Pakistan.
During a SCO summit of its foreign ministers in Goa in May, Pakistan and India delivered severe remarks against each other.
India frequently utilises internal venues to indirectly criticise Pakistan for fueling regional terrorism.
While Delhi may not do so during its presidency, any reference of state-sponsored terrorism may frighten Islamabad.
India and China Relationship
China’s reaction to what Russian President Vladimir Putin says will almost certainly be positive, but it will be fascinating to observe if President Xi Jinping speaks about the Indo-Pacific and especially targets India-Washington connections.
Relations between India and China have been strained in recent years, particularly since their troops battled along their disputed Himalayan border in 2020.
According to reports, Iran may be granted full membership in the SCO this year, a first for Tehran in decades. This decision will undoubtedly enrage the West.
Mr Modi enjoys making big headlines and demonstrating accomplishments, but he will have significant obstacles to create a united SCO statement that appears good and aligns with Delhi’s aims on issues such as food poverty, terrorism, and climate change.