NEW DELHI: Leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) on Tuesday (Jul 4) will hold an online summit hosted by India seeking to expand the influence of the Eurasian group by including Iran and opening a path to membership for Belarus.
China’s President Xi Jinping and Russian leader Vladimir Putin will participate in the virtual summit, which will be Putin’s first appearance at an international event since he crushed a mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group in late June.
Formed in 2001 by China and Russia, with former Soviet central Asian states as members and joined later by India and Pakistan, the eight-member SCO is a political and security group that seeks to counter Western influence in Eurasia.
While Iran is expected to be accepted as a member, Belarus will sign a memorandum of obligations which will lead to its membership later. When both countries, which have observer status and enjoy close ties to Moscow, are accepted as members of the SCO it will expand the grouping’s western flank in both Europe and Asia.
The summit takes place barely two weeks after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was hosted by US President Joe Biden for a state visit, and the two countries called themselves “among the closest partners in the world”.
India, which holds the presidency of SCO and the G20 this year, has walked a diplomatic tightrope as relations between western nations and a Russia-China partnership have been fraught due to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine last year, and Beijing’s growing assertive presence in the global geopolitical theatre.
Putin spoke to Modi in a call last week to discuss the aftermath of the quashed mercenary mutiny. During the discussion Modi reiterated a call for dialogue and diplomacy regarding the war in Ukraine.
Last year on the sidelines of the summit in Uzbekistan Modi told Putin that it is not the era of war, which is the closest India has come to addressing the issue of the war directly with the Russian leader.