Modi at SCO summit: Will PM discuss Ukraine with Vladimir Putin? Will he meet Xi Jinping and Shehbaz Sharif?

Narendra Modi’s presence at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Uzbekistan is of significance. He will meet Russia’s Vladimir Putin and hold key discussions on G20, defence and more. The suspense remains whether the PM will meet the Chinese and Pakistani leaders

FP Explainers September 16, 2022 08:46:53 IST
Modi at SCO summit: Will PM discuss Ukraine with Vladimir Putin? Will he meet Xi Jinping and Shehbaz Sharif?

Prime Minister Narendra Modi has a busy day ahead of him in Samarkhand. He will hold bilateral tallks with Russia's Vladimir Putin and leaders from Uzbekistan and Iran. Image courtesy: @narendramodi/Twitter

All eyes are on the big Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) summit in Uzbekistan on 15 and 16 September that will see political heavyweights – Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Chinese President Xi Jinping and his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin – in attendance. India shares a tetchy relationship with China and is walking on eggs with Russia, which has been slapped with West sanctions for its invasion of Ukraine.

Modi landed in Samarkand, a city in southeastern Uzbekistan, on Thursday evening. This is the first time the leaders will meet each other since the COVID-19 outbreak. It is also the Chinese premier’s first overseas visit since the pandemic.

Besides the big three, Pakistan PM Shehbaz Sharif, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi will be in Uzbekistan.

Modi is expected to hold several bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit. Here is what his schedule looks like. 09:20 am: SCO summit, 10:00 am: Restricted meeting of SCO leaders, 11:40 am: Extended meeting of leaders, 3:40 pm: Bilateral talks with Russia, 4:20pm: Bilateral talks with Uzbekistan, and 5:00 pm: Bilateral talks with Iran.

It is unclear if the PM will hold talks with the Chinese president and the Pakistan PM. “We will keep you fully apprised when the PM’s schedule of bilateral meetings unfolds,” Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwatra told reporters in New Delhi on Thursday when asked if Modi and Xi will have a bilateral meeting on the sidelines of the summit.

We take a look at what’s on the PM’s agenda at the summit and what discussions are likely.

What will Modi and Putin discuss?

Modi is expected to meet Putin and hold bilateral talks, Russia has announced.

Russian presidential aide Yuri Ushakov told the media that the two leaders will discuss Russian-Indian cooperation within the United Nations and Group of 20 (G20) during talks, which are likely to be held on Friday. Discussions on defence, energy and investment partnerships are also on the cards.

Modi at SCO summit Will PM discuss Ukraine with Vladimir Putin Will he meet Xi Jinping and Shehbaz Sharif

PM Modi and Putin will hold bilateral talks on the sidelines of the summit. File photo/PTI

There will be considerable focus on multilateral cooperation with India holding G20 and SCO presidencies next year, reports The Economic Times (ET).

“A conversation on the international agenda with Modi will also take place, the sides will discuss issues of strategic stability, the situation in the Asia Pacific Region, and, of course, cooperation within major multilateral formats, such as the UN, the G20 and the SCO,” Ushakov said, Russian news agency TASS reported.

“This is particularly important because India will preside in the UN Security Council in December, and in 2023, India will lead the SCO and also chair the G20,” he said, according to a report in The Indian Express.

It remains to be seen if the two leaders will talk about Ukraine.

This bilateral meeting, on the sidelines of SCO, will be the first between Modi and Putin since the invasion of Ukraine began on 24 February. The two leaders have held phone conversations since. On 1 July, they spoke to each other and reviewed the implementation of the decisions taken during the Russian president’s December 2021 India visit.

Will Modi meet Xi?

While the two Asian leaders will come face to face at the SCO summit, whether they will meet on the sidelines remains a secret with both New Delhi and Beijing not parting any information.

Modi at SCO summit Will PM discuss Ukraine with Vladimir Putin Will he meet Xi Jinping and Shehbaz Sharif

China has kept Xi Jinping's programme under wraps. It is unclear where the two leaders will hold structured talks. File photo/AFP

In the wake of the recent disengagement in Ladakh’s Gogra-Hotsprings PP15, where the two armies locked horns for two years, there was speculation that the two leaders would meet. A wider de-escalation of 60,000 troops and heavy equipment in the region is still to be negotiated. In case of a possible meeting in Samarkhand, Modi would call for a return to the April 2020 status quo and Xi will bring up India’s action against Chinese apps and cell phone companies.

However, a bilateral with an agenda seems unlikely, NDTV reports, adding that a short conversation at the summit is possible.

Will Modi meet the Pakistan PM?

The two leaders could have a sidebar. However, there is no official confirmation from either of the nations.

India, it is reported, wants to express condolences for the loss of lives in Pakistan because of the deadly floods.

In a column in the Dawn titled “Is India-Pakistan peace around?”, Jawed Naqvi writes, “Should things go well in Samarkand, an SCO summit in India could become a key element in Mr Modi’s third consecutive re-election bid in 2024. Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif, on his part, needs urgent relief from the combined effects of the political quagmire his ruling alliance finds itself in, deepened by the natural calamity striking the country in its most furious and devastating avatar in recent memory.”

Who else will India hold talks with?

The PM will hold bilateral meetings with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and the host Uzbekistan President Shavkat Mirziyoyev.

Officials from India and Turkey were also discussing a possible meeting between Modi and Erdogan.

Modi at SCO summit Will PM discuss Ukraine with Vladimir Putin Will he meet Xi Jinping and Shehbaz Sharif

Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev meets with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi in Samarkand ahead of the summit. AFP

What’s on the PM’s agenda at the summit?

On Friday, Modi will attend the main summit of eight members. They are likely to induct Iran as the ninth member. The second meeting of all the leaders invited to the summit, including those from Turkey, Belarus, Armenia, Azerbaijan and Mongolia will take place subsequently, after which all the leaders will hold bilateral meetings on the sidelines, according to a report in The Hindu.

At the SCO summit, the PM will call for effective counterterror measures in Eurasia, enhance inclusive connectivity and widen trade possibilities in the region, reports ET. He is also likely to push for the International North-South Transport Corridor (INSTC).

The INSTC could be significant for SCO member-states as it will connect them with India and the Indian Ocean and diversify their trade partners and routes. The role of Iran will be critical in this regard.

In his speech, Modi is expected to include India’s pitch for Iran’s Chabahar “as a connectivity hub”. He is likely to touch upon the need to respect territorial sovereignty, giving a subtle message to China and Pakistan.

With inputs from agencies

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