International

Putin Is Meeting a Lot of World Leaders for a Global ‘Outcast’

Vladimir Putin and Narendra Modi at the Atom pavilion, in Moscow, on July 9. Photographer: Gabriil Grigorov/AFP/Getty Images (GAVRIIL GRIGOROV/POOL/AFP via Getty Images)

(Bloomberg) -- President Vladimir Putin is on a diplomatic roll at home and abroad, defying efforts by the US and its allies to cast him as an international pariah over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

In just two months since he began his fifth presidential term in May, Putin has held more than 20 meetings with leaders from Europe, Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East. 

Putin has also made six foreign visits, even as his scope for travel has been limited since the International Criminal Court last year issued an arrest warrant against him for alleged war crimes in Ukraine.  

Many of his interlocutors were from former Soviet nations that feel obliged to maintain good ties with Russia or came from states that share Putin’s anti-US stance. But others represent countries that have sought to maintain a neutral position on the war, showing that the Russian leader’s efforts to court the so-called Global South as a counterweight to the US-dominated world order is paying dividends.

Xi Dialog

Putin lost no time in renewing his friendship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, flying to Beijing little more than a week after being sworn in for another six-year term. They met again this month on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Kazakhstan. Xi, whose backing has helped Russia to withstand unprecedented Western sanctions over the war in Ukraine,  said China “always stood on the right side of history” as he and Putin pledged to “strengthen comprehensive strategic coordination.”

Modi Visit

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Moscow this week, his first to Russia in five years, sends a clear signal about India’s determination to keep close to Russia amid the deepening Chinese-Russian embrace. New Delhi remains a major buyer of Russian weapons even as it’s diversifying its defense needs and has become increasingly reliant on discounted oil from Russia since the war in Ukraine started.

Orban ‘Peace Mission’

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, whose country holds the rotating presidency of the European Union, defied criticism from fellow EU leaders of his self-styled peace initiative to hold talks with Putin in Moscow last week. Orban, who’s seen as the most Russia-friendly figure in the 27-nation bloc, had earlier visited Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in Kyiv and went to China after his talks with Putin to meet with Xi. 

Erdogan Invite

Putin met with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan for the first time since last September on the sidelines of the SCO summit. They discussed booming Russian tourism to Turkey and the Akkuyu nuclear power plant that Rosatom is building in the country. Erdogan said NATO member Turkey wants to “further develop warm relations” with Russia as he invited Putin to visit him “very soon.”

North Korea Alliance

Putin in June made his first trip in 24 years to North Korea, where he signed a mutual defense pact with leader Kim Jong Un, who pledged “unconditionally” to support Russia in its war on Ukraine. The military partnership has fanned fears that Russia may provide advanced weapons technology to the isolated Communist state, which has been sending munitions and missiles to aid the Kremlin’s war machine. From Pyongyang, Putin traveled on to Vietnam, which ignored US complaints about hosting the Russian leader.

Broader Contacts

Putin has been busy at home and abroad at other meetings with foreign rulers since May. In addition to Xi and Erdogan, Putin met with the leaders of Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Mongolia, Pakistan and Qatar on the sidelines of the SCO summit in Astana. In Russia, he has held talks with his counterparts from Zimbabwe, Bolivia, Republic of the Congo, Cuba, Armenia, Tajikistan and Bahrain. Putin also traveled to Uzbekistan and Belarus to meet their leaders.

More top-level diplomacy looms on the horizon, when Russia hosts the summit of the expanded BRICS group of states in Kazan in October. That’s likely to give Putin the opportunity to meet with the leaders of Brazil, India, China, South Africa, Iran, Egypt, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates.

--With assistance from Chris Miller and Gina Turner.

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