SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan – Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping sought to rally Asian leaders behind a new “international order” as they met Friday for a summit aimed at challenging Western influence.
But cracks soon emerged in the summit’s solidarity, with the Indian prime minister telling Putin “it was not the right time” for conflict in Ukraine.
Adding to the tension, the forces of the two countries – Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan – engaged in violent border clashes while their leaders were present.
Washington said Putin’s remarks at the summit about addressing “concerns” about Ukraine from China and India increased pressure on Russia to end its military offensive.
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) meeting in former Soviet Uzbekistan brought together Putin and Xi with leaders of SCO members India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries, as well as the presidents of Iran and Turkey.
Putin and Xi met Thursday in their first face-to-face talks since Russia sent troops into Ukraine in February, and in the Chinese leader’s first trip abroad since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
The Kremlin has floated the summit as an alternative to “western-centric organizations,” at a time when pressure has grown on Moscow over Ukraine and anger in Beijing over US support for Taiwan.
Xi told the assembled leaders that it was time to reshape the international order and “abandon the games of loss and the politics of bloc.”
They should “work together to promote the development of the international system in a more just and rational direction,” Xi said at a joint session.
New power centers
Putin praised the growing influence of countries outside the West, criticizing what he called “the tools of protectionism, illegal sanctions and economic selfishness”.
“The growing role of the new centers of power cooperating with each other … is becoming more and more apparent,” Putin said.
The summit is Putin’s first major international visit since Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in February, sparking a conflict that has left thousands dead and seen waves of economic sanctions in Russia.
Things did not go well for the Russian leader.
In their talks, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi told Putin: “Your Excellency, I know today is not a time of war.”
Putin told Modi he knew India’s “concerns” about the conflict, echoing the echo he used with Xi the day before.
“We will do everything we can to end this as soon as possible,” Putin said, accusing Kyiv of refusing to negotiate.
“I think what you’re hearing from China, from India, reflects concerns around the world about the effects of Russian aggression on Ukraine,” US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said in Washington.
I think it increases pressure on Russia to end the aggression.
Putin ‘in no hurry’ on Ukraine
But Putin later said that Russia was in no hurry to end military action.
Our offensive operations in the Donbass itself do not stop. They are moving at a slow pace…the Russian army is occupying new and newer territories,” Putin told a news conference at the end of the summit.
“We’re not in a hurry… There are no changes.”
The Shanghai Cooperation Organization—which also includes Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, and Uzbekistan—was established in 2001 as a political, economic, and security organization that rivals Western institutions.
The group is not completely standardized. The leaders of Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan were forced to meet at the summit to order their forces to withdraw after bloody clashes along their disputed borders, raising fears of an all-out conflict.
Putin and Xi also met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who told the assembled leaders that efforts were being made to “end the conflict in Ukraine through diplomacy as soon as possible.”
Putin told Erdogan, who has been a key broker in limited deals between Russia and Ukraine, that Moscow is eager to build closer ties with Turkey and is ready for a “significant increase” in all exports to the country.
For Putin, the summit was an attempt to show that he is not completely isolated on the world stage, at a time when his forces in Ukraine are facing major setbacks on the battlefield.
For Xi, it was an opportunity to cement his credentials as a world statesman ahead of the ruling Communist Party’s pivotal congress in October, when he is widely expected to secure an unprecedented third term as president.
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