On the sidelines of SCO, all eyes on Russia-India-China ties

Russia has attempted to revive the RIC trilateral format, with little luck so far

Updated - September 16, 2022 01:25 am IST

Published - September 15, 2022 08:23 pm IST - SAMARKAND

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15, 2022 to attend the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Photo: Special Arrangement

Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrives at Samarkand, Uzbekistan on September 15, 2022 to attend the 22nd Meeting of the Council of Heads of State of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Photo: Special Arrangement

Seven months after they announced a “no-limits” partnership, which was followed by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping renewed their vows in a bilateral meeting just ahead of the SCO Summit in Samarkand.

While a Russia-India-China trilateral summit, that had been outlooked by Kremlin officials last December is considered unlikely to happen on Friday given continuing tensions in India-China ties, experts say Mr. Putin could also play a role in “encouraging” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Mr. Xi to resolve differences over the military stand-off at the Line of Actual Control

“You cannot rule out that Mr. Putin will try to bring the Indian and Chinese leaders to a conversation,” said Pankaj Saran, former Deputy National Security Adviser, former Ambassador to Russia and an expert on the region. He also pointed to the role Russia played during the SCO ministerial meetings in Moscow in September 2020 to ensure an RIC meeting on the sidelines between External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar and Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, hosted by Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Watch | What does India hope to achieve at the SCO Summit?

The meeting was followed by a bilateral meeting between Mr. Wang and Mr. Jaishankar and was understood to have facilitated the first thaw in the relationship after the Galwan killings in June that year.

In December last year, Mr. Putin’s aide at the Kremlin had announced that the RIC trilateral would take place “in the near future”, and during talks with Mr. Modi in April this year, Mr. Lavrov said he had proposed a meeting of the “troika’s” leadership at one of a number of international conferences that would be held this year.

“RIC is a Russian effort, and it is important to remember that while neither China nor India may push for the RIC, they will not take it off the table, either,” said Mr. Saran. “Eventually, it will all depend on India-China ties,” he added, referring to the breakdown in ties over the LAC stand-off.

Growing partnership

India has also watched the growing Russia-China partnership as well as the increasing Russian dependency on China in the face of Western sanctions with some concern, particularly if it could impact New Delhi’s traditional partnership with Russia. During their meeting in Samarkand, Mr. Xi said China was “ready to work” with Russia on demonstrating the “responsibility of major powers”, while Mr. Putin supported the “One China” principle and criticised the U.S.’s role in Taiwan, both stands that would worry New Delhi. 

The RIC grouping of the three countries was first promoted by then Russian Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov in the 1990s. Since then they have held 18 meetings at the Foreign Ministers’ level, including the last one in 2021, hosted by India in a virtual format, but the leaders have not managed to meet more than 3 times together, with the last such meeting between Mr. Modi, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi on the sidelines of the Osaka G-20 in 2019. It remains to be seen whether the next G-20 at Bali, where all three leaders are set to attend amid growing calls from the U.S.-EU combine of a boycott of Mr. Putin, as well as growing criticism of Mr. Xi for China’s aggressive stance on Taiwan, will see another iteration of the trilateral grouping that appears to be in serious trouble. 

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