Leaders of Russia, China attend summit of regional security grouping

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday attended the summit of a security grouping created by Moscow and Beijing to counter Western alliances.

Putin and Xi joined the leaders of other countries that are members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization at its annual meeting in Kazakhstan’s capital of Astana.

The grouping was established in 2001 by China, Russia and the four ex-Soviet Central Asian nations of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan to promote regional security and economic cooperation. It was later joined by India, Pakistan and Iran. Russia’s western neighbor and ally, Belarus, joined the SCO on Thursday.

Observer states and dialogue partners include Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Addressing the summit, Putin emphasized the group’s focus on ensuring security of its members and said the SCO will form a dedicated center that will coordinate response to various security challenges. He added that the group’s members will also endorse a special program to fight separatism and extremism.

Xi called on the SCO members to show solidarity in the face “the real challenges of intervention and polarization,” according to a readout of his speech by the official Xinhua news agency.

“In the face of the real threat of the Cold War mentality, we have to safeguard the security bottom line,” he added.

Besides Putin and Xi, and summit host Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev, attending Thursday’s meeting are Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif of Pakistan, President Shavkat Mirziyoyev of Uzbekistan, President Emomali Rakhmon of Tajikistan, President Sadyr Zhaparov of Kyrgyzstan and President Alexander Lukashenko of Belarus.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi of India has sent his foreign minister. Indian media reports speculated the recently reelected Modi was busy with the parliament session that began last week.

Iran is still choosing a successor to President Ebrahim Raisi, killed in a helicopter crash in May, with a runoff election Friday, so acting President Mohammad Mokhbar attended the summit.

During a meeting Thursday with the Russian leader on the sidelines of the summit, Mokhber conveyed a message to Putin from Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, saying that “deep and unchangeable” relations between the two allies will remain strong irrespective of the election. Mokhber added that strong ties between Moscow and Tehran have changed “the power equations in the world.”

Other guests of the SCO included President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey and President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan.

Also present was U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres, who is visiting Central Asia.

For Putin, the summit offered another venue to demonstrate the failure of Western efforts to isolate Russia over its 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

Speaking Thursday at the summit, Putin mentioned his statement in June that the hostilities could end if Ukraine withdraws its troops from the four regions that Moscow annexed in 2022 and abandons its bid to join NATO. Kyiv and its allies have rejected the idea.

Putin also thanked SCO members for their proposals for a peace settlement, adding that Moscow will take them into account.

Moscow has hailed a peace plan for Ukraine offered by China last year that was rejected by both Ukraine and the West for failing to call for Russia to leave occupied parts of Ukraine.

Putin later told Russian reporters that he has noted claims by Donald Trump, the presumed Republican candidate in the U.S. presidential election, that he can resolve the Ukraine crisis and said, “We take this quite seriously.” However, he said he has no details about what Trump might propose.

At a meeting with Xi on Wednesday, Putin hailed the SCO as “one of the key pillars of a fair, multipolar world order,” and said ties between Moscow and Beijing are “experiencing the best period in their history.”

It marked their second meeting in as many months following Putin’s visit to China, which underscored Beijing’s political support for Moscow amid Western sanctions and China’s role as a top market for Rusisan oil and gas. Russia also has relied on Beijing as a main source of high-tech imports to keep its military machine running.

The SCO helps China project its influence, especially across Central Asia and the Global South. Xi called for “bridges of communication” between countries last week and wants to further promote China as an alternative to the U.S. and its allies.

For host Kazakhstan and the other Central Asian nations, the meeting is a way to further their cooperation with bigger, more powerful neighbors. Kazakhstan, for instance, frequently engages with both neighboring Russia and China, while also pursuing links with the West.

Speaking in opening remarks at the summit, Tokayev hailed the SCO as “one of the most authoritative and influential international structures.”

Copyright © 2024 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, written or redistributed.

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