Vladimir Putin has said that Russia remains “united as never before” in the wake of the failed mutiny by the Wagner mercenary group and claimed the country continued to flourish in the face of heavy western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine.
In an address from the Kremlin to a virtual gathering of leaders from the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO), a group founded by Russia and China to counter western influence, the Russian president attempted to rebuff any suggestion that he had been weakened by last week’s chaotic but short-lived rebellion led by Yevgeny Prigozhin.
“The Russian people are united as never before,” said Putin. “The solidarity and responsibility for the fate of the fatherland was clearly demonstrated by the Russian political circles and the entire society by standing as a united front against the attempted armed rebellion.”
He also thanked the leaders present at the meeting, which included the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi, President Xi of China, Pakistan’s prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, and President Lukashenko of Belarus , for their support for the Russian leadership during the threat to “constitutional order and the life and security of citizens” – thought to be a reference to the Wagner uprising.
Putin said Russia would continue to stand up against western sanctions, imposed last April after his decision to invade Ukraine. He said he supported further trade in local currencies with fellow SCO countries such as China, which has helped to provide a buffer for Russia against western sanctions.
“Russia counters all these external sanctions, pressures and provocations and continues to develop as never before,” Putin told the summit.
All other leaders at the gathering avoided direct mention of the Ukraine war, instead addressing the global ripple effects and the importance of regional cooperation beyond the axis of the west. India, which is the SCO chair this year and was hosting the virtual summit, has maintained a defiantly neutral stance on the invasion of Ukraine, given its deep historic and defence ties to Russia as well as its relationship with Europe and the US. Modi and Putin spoke on the phone only last week.
In Modi’s address, he called the SCO countries an “extended family” and instead focused on the issues of inflation and terrorism. In what appeared to be a thinly veiled jibe at its neighbour and nemesis Pakistan – which India has long accused of funding militant insurgents in the disputed region of Kashmir – Modi said members of the group “must not hesitate to criticise countries that support cross-border terrorism as part of state policy”.
Pakistan’s prime minister, Sharif, also used the occasion to denounce terrorism, describing it as a threat that “continues to plague our region and remains a serious obstacle to the maintenance of peace and stability”. He appeared to hit back at India’s criticism, stating that “any temptation to use it [terrorism] as a cudgel for diplomatic point scoring must be eschewed.”
China’s President Xi , whose military is engaged in border hostilities with India but is seen as one of Pakistan’s closest foreign allies, called for “long-term peace and stability”. In what was considered to be a criticism of US foreign policy, he warned that SCO members “must be highly vigilant against external forces inciting a new cold war in the region”.