By: Toh Han Shih
On September 15, Sadyr Japarov, the President of Kyrgyzstan, and Turkish President Recep Erdogan on September 16 each kept Russian President Vladimir Putin waiting at bilateral meetings of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. It’s a reversal for Putin, who in the past did this to Britain’s late Queen Elizabeth II, former US President Donald Trump and former German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
The delays may have been brief, but they were telling, said Temur Umarov, a member of the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “Vladimir Putin is not able to keep others waiting, but it is normal to let others keep him waiting,” Umarov said. “Russia needs other countries much more than before.”
To say Putin was given a rough ride at the two-day eight-nation SCO meeting in Samarkand – founded in 2001 by China, Russia and four Central Asian states – is an understatement. He was lectured by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi over his invasion of Ukraine and his pleas for help were largely ignored by Xi, who eclipsed Putin with an offer to train thousands of ISIS forces. order in Central Asia over the next five years.
Besides China and Russia, the SCO includes Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan. Pakistan and India joined the SCO in 2017. Iran is in the process of joining the SCO.
Russia is not doing well in its war, with Ukrainian troops recapturing territory and the Russian army routed. The Russian economy is isolated due to international sanctions in retaliation for the invasion, Umarov said. “Russia’s currency of exchange with many countries is much weaker than it was.”
Central Asian countries, once part of the Soviet Union, are deeply uneasy about the Russian invasion, wrote Evan Feigenbaum, vice president of studies at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, in a article for the think tank on September 13.
When Putin met Xi on Sept. 15, the Russian leader acknowledged China’s war concerns. But while the statement during their meeting with the Chinese Foreign Ministry, they talked about cooperation and said that China would firmly support Russia’s “core interests”, he made no mention of the war and expressed no support to Russia in the face of international sanctions. Similarly, when Putin met Modi on September 16, the Russian president acknowledged that the Indian prime minister was preoccupied with the war.
” It’s amazing. Xi does not support Putin. No weapons, no ammunition, no tokens, no real words of solidarity. Just a willingness to buy Russian energy at greatly reduced prices,” tweeted Michael McFaul, professor at Stanford University, on September 17.
On the one hand, China will provide diplomatic support to Russia to counterbalance Washington, Feigenbaum wrote. “On the other hand, China will continue to de facto comply with Western sanctions to avoid painting a target on its own back, and it will deploy floury language about ‘peace’ and ‘stability’ aimed at placating nations and Central Asian partners in southern countries who are worried about Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
China moves to Central Asia
China’s growing economic influence in Central Asia has been a trend over the past two decades, according to Asia Sentinel editor Philip Bowring. written in an article from September 15pointing out that “Xi chose this moment to visit Kazakhstan (as) proof of a desire to increase China’s influence in a country which, due to its long borders and large ethnic Russian minority, has always been considered closer to Moscow”. than other Central Asian states.
After having long replaced Russia as the main trading partner for most Central Asian countries. China is now the largest supplier of credit to Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan, Carnegie’s Umarov pointed out. What is noteworthy about the SCO meeting, he said, is China’s offer to cooperate on security in Central Asia.
In a speech on September 16, Xi said China is ready to train 2,000 law enforcement personnel for SCO member states over the next five years and establish a China-SCO base for personnel training of combating terrorism. Xi said SCO member states must “prevent external forces from inciting color revolutions and jointly oppose interference in the internal affairs of other countries.”
Xi’s statement reflected his concerns about mainland China and Hong Kong. In a speech on September 16, Chinese Minister of Public Security Wang Xiaohong said that the Ministry of Public Security should prevent color revolutions. Wang said China’s Ministry of Public Security should support Hong Kong and Macao police and help Hong Kong move from the public disorder of 2019 and 2020 to order.
To date, Russia has been the main guarantor of security in Central Asia, Umarov stressed. But with recent U-turns by the military in Ukraine, Central Asian countries are now seeing China as a security provider, he added.
“China’s influence in Central Asia will only grow over the years, and Russia’s war with Ukraine will fuel the process,” Umarov said.
No mind meeting
What is also significant in the meetings in Central Asia is the absence of some that did not take place. Xi visited Kazakhstan on September 14, while Pope Francis arrived in Kazakhstan on September 13 and said he was “always ready” to visit China. The Vatican requested a meeting between Xi and Pope Francis in Kazakhstan, but the Chinese government refused, reported Reuters.
Moreover, when Modi attended the SCO meeting in Samarkand, he met with the leaders of several countries, including those of Uzbekistan, Iran and Russia, but not Xi. For example Modi tweeted September 16, “I had a wonderful meeting with President Putin. We had the opportunity to discuss the continuation of Indo-Russian cooperation in sectors such as trade, energy, defense, etc. We also discussed other bilateral and global issues.
But Modi made no mention of Xi in his tweets about the SCO meeting, a sign of cold relations between China and India whose troops clashed along their borders in 2020 and 2021.
Energy flows from Europe to China
On September 15, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak announced that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany would be replaced by “Power of Siberia 2”, an alternative gas pipeline to China, reported euronews. The minister said that Russia and China would soon sign an agreement to deliver 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year through the proposed pipeline, close to the maximum capacity of 55 billion cubic meters per year of Nord Stream 1 between the Germany and Russia which was closed. down since September.
Putin, Xi and Mongolian President Ukhnaa Khurelsukh met on September 15 to agree that construction of the gas pipeline, which will run from Russia through Mongolia to China, will begin in 2024. From 2030, the pipeline will deliver gas gas to Europe. from the fields of Western Siberia to China. For 2022, Putin predicted a 20% growth in energy transfer from Russia to China and Mongolia, up to 5.2 billion kilowatts.
“In the past, Russia could negotiate natural gas prices with China, but now Russia cannot. Now Putin needs China much more than before the war,” Umarov said.
Toh Han Shih is chief analyst at Headland Intelligence, a Hong Kong-based risk consultancy.