Putin met with Xi (and other world leaders) to show he’s still in charge — but what happened was far from pleasing China.

Western powers and observers in democracies see the uprising as a moment of weakness for Putin. However, the situation is seen very differently for other authoritarian leaders who have already faced their own power struggles.

All eyes will be on Vladimir Putin this week, as a Russian president appears on the world stage for the first time since the Wagner rebellion threatened his leadership.

On Tuesday, Putin is expected to attend a virtual summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), a pro-Russian regional security group led by Beijing and Moscow.

But while the leaders of these countries have so far given Putin a sympathetic audience, his presence — albeit virtual — could provide a window of sorts into the scale of his support after the crisis a week ago.

In a brief and chaotic uprising, Wagner – a private mercenary led by warlord Yevgeny Prigozhin – took control of important military installations in two Russian cities. As thousands of fighters marched toward Moscow, where the Kremlin sent heavily armed troops into the streets, it looked like civil war would erupt.

A secret treaty abruptly ended the rebellion, the Wagnerian militia retreated and Prigozhin was sent to Belarus. But a week later, details of the deal, Wagner’s fate and what it means for Putin’s regime still need to be clarified.

These questions may be on the minds of other leaders attending Tuesday’s virtual summit, including China’s Xi Jinping and India’s Narendra Modi – this year’s summit host – and representatives from Asian countries such as Pakistan. and Uzbekistan – many of whom, like Putin, are leaders by force.

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Experts believe Putin will use the forum to project an image of authority and reassure Moscow’s partners — and, by extension, the world — that he is firmly in control.

“It’s virtual, so they won’t be in person, otherwise they’ll be side by side, and strong men will show strength,” said Derek Grossman, a senior security analyst at the RAND Corporation. Think tank North American.

According to Grossman, many of the leaders gathered at the summit look to Russia and China as models of how they want to govern their societies as authoritarian regimes.

“If Putin is shocked by this insurgency, that tells you something — even the strongest are not necessarily immune to potential insurgencies in their countries,” Grossman noted.

Participants at the 22nd Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Leaders’ Summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 16, 2022. Murat Gula/Anatolu Agency/Getty Images

China-Russia view

Founded in 2001 by China, Russia and several former Soviet states in Central Asia to fight terrorism and improve border security, the SCO has grown in size and scope in recent years amid efforts by Xi and Putin to counter Western influence.

Iran signed a memorandum of commitments at last year’s summit and is expected to become a full member this year; Belarus, a Russian ally that helped launch the initial invasion of Ukraine, is also invited as an observer state and could soon become a full member, experts say.

Xi and Putin, long the world’s two most powerful autocrats, have forged closer ties in recent years, declaring an “unbounded” friendship in February 2022 shortly before Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine.

Since then, China has refused to condemn the war and instead offered much-needed diplomatic and economic support to Russia, blaming NATO for fueling the conflict and amplifying the Kremlin’s misinformation.

But Putin’s faltering war has put pressure on the Sino-Russian alliance.

“Xi doesn’t want to completely damage China’s ties in Europe because of this, and he doesn’t want China to become a bigger NATO target than it was before the war,” Grossman said, though he noted Russia’s biggest advantages. Relationship – China overcomes Xi’s misgivings about China’s failed war and its impact on China’s global image.

On Tuesday, Xi will deliver the summit’s opening speech via video call, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry. For Putin, Xi’s unequivocal support would be of significant value.

Yasuhiro Matsuda, a professor at Tokyo University’s Institute of Advanced Asian Studies, suggested Beijing was in a difficult position because “Russia is losing, and that is something China cannot control”.

After Putin’s invasion, China’s ideal scenario is “Putin wins the war in two days or weeks, the Zelensky administration collapses, Europe can do nothing, America can do nothing”. “It’s the best scenario for China – it’s over,” Matsuda insisted.

On Tuesday, despite the turmoil, Matsuda said, “Xi Jinping also needs to show his power and authority to the domestic people, so he will behave as before – that’s what we will see.”

Authoritarian regimes look to Moscow

Western powers and observers in democracies see the uprising as a moment of weakness for Putin. However, the situation may be viewed very differently by other authoritarian leaders attending the summit, who are already facing their own power struggles, experts note.

SCO member Kazakhstan was the scene of deadly protests in 2022, fueled by widespread discontent with the government. The violence that followed left more than 160 dead and thousands arrested, prompting authorities to request troops from Russia to quell the unrest.

By contrast, Putin ended the Wagner uprising without bloodshed before it reached the capital. He exiled his opponent, Prigozhin, and could gain control over Wagner militias who agreed to sign treaties with the Russian army.

“From the point of view of the Chinese and other (SCO) members, this is an astonishing achievement because many politicians cannot pull it off,” argued Alexander Korolev, a professor of politics and international relations at the University of Southern New Wales in Australia. .

That’s not to say other members don’t have questions about what happened, Korolev noted.

“But I think they understand that (the uprising) is not the end of Putin’s rule. In authoritarian regimes, leaders are challenged from time to time, and he has proven to the world and its elites that he can handle enormous challenges.”

Question of India

In a sea of ​​authoritarian leaders, India’s Modi is an oddball.

Democratically elected Modi, who attended this year’s SCO summit after meeting US President Joe Biden on a state visit to Washington, has become a key figure in Western efforts to counter China’s growing influence in the Indo-Pacific region.

“India stands out from other SEO countries, but I don’t think it’s uncomfortable at all because its foreign policy is not to be friend to all and enemy to none. I don’t see them talking loudly or anything like that,” he explained. Grossman.

This year’s summit, though virtual, is being hosted by India. The group’s defense and foreign ministers met face-to-face earlier this year in the Indian state of Goa.

India has strong ties with Russia, which is India’s largest arms supplier. New Delhi has not taken a firm stance on Ukraine’s war, and continued purchases of Russian oil have helped prop up Moscow’s economy — to the consternation of some Western partners.

Modi made headlines last year at the SCO summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, when he told Putin that this was not the time for war, appearing to outright reject an invasion. But India’s continued economic support for Russia has undermined that message of peace — and last year’s announcement may be as far as Modi wants to go.

* Simone McCarthy and Nectar Kahn contributed to this article

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