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Putin and Xi to meet at Uzbekistan summit: test time for Russia

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SAMARKAND, Uzbekistan, Sept 15 – Russian President Vladimir Putin plans to meet Chinese leader Xi Jinping in Uzbekistan today. It will be their first meeting since Russian troops invaded Ukraine.

The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, will also be attended by the leaders of India and Turkey, among others. It will be Xi’s first trip abroad since the Covid-19 pandemic broke out.

Putin disembarks at Samarkand, Uzbekistan – strongman in trouble

They will also hold a three-way meeting with Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh. In a separate statement, the Uzbek government said Putin would also meet Iranian, Kyrgyz, Pakistani, Turkmen and Uzbek leaders.

Putin and Xi plan to discuss Ukraine and Taiwan at the meeting which the Kremlin says would hold “special significance” given the geopolitical situation. But Beijing is struggling to present itself as neutral in order to avoid European condemnation (and US sanctions) and the war has put that partnership under strain.

The deepening partnership between China and Russia is a geopolitical development the West is watching with anxiety, and SCO widens Beijing and Moscow’s audience to countries representing half of the world’s population.

Moscow has claimed China’s support for the war. Last week, China’s third-top-ranking official Li Zhanshu visited Russia and was quoted by the Duma as saying: “We fully understand the necessity of all the measures taken by Russia aimed at protecting its key interests, we are providing our assistance.”

The Chinese foreign ministry, meanwhile, did not repeat the line and has stayed silent on Xi’s meeting with Putin. The readout from the Xi-Putin meeting is likely to be similarly contested, with enthusiastic Russian accounts and muted Chinese ones.

Xi and Putin are likely to discuss ways of combating US and European sanctions. Chinese state media quoted Li proposing to share experience with Russia on “legislation regarding fighting against external interference, sanctions and long-arm jurisdiction”. In bilateral phone calls earlier this year Xi and Putin agreed to boost co-operation on finance and energy.

While Russia has cut supplies to Europe, Chinese and Indian imports of Russian energy almost doubled in the three months after the invasion — although it is still much less than what Europe is currently buying.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan is due to hold a one-on-one meeting with Putin tomorrow. Erdoğan last week echoed Putin’s criticism of the grain deal that was signed in July after being brokered by Turkey and the UN. He promised to address Moscow’s concerns during their meeting in Samarkand.

While the Russian president’s outburst prompted fears that the grain deal — which has allowed the export of 3mn tonnes of grain from Ukraine since early August — could collapse, the UN has been working behind the scenes to thrash out the details of a parallel agreement on the export of fertilisers that would be worth several billion dollars a year to Russian chemicals producers.

Two people familiar with the talks said that the UN is pushing for a deal before world leaders attend the UN General Assembly next week, reports the Financial Times.

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