This is Vladimir Putin’s return to the international scene. The Russian President will attend the G20 Summit hosted by India from New Delhi on Wednesday. But return with caution. The Kremlin ruler will not be physically in India, but will participate via video conference – just like his colleague Emmanuel Macron – in the world’s twenty largest economies. Hosts India have planned this mixed formula, which comes at an opportune time for a leader who is under an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court (ICC). Accused of war crimes, in particular, the deportation of Ukrainian children.
Since the invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the Russian head of state has only traveled abroad exclusively, for example to the vassal state of Belarus or to his Chinese ally Xi Jinping last October. In international meetings where Moscow is always present, it is usually Sergei Lavrov, its Foreign Minister, who represents Vladimir Putin. The latter, his Kremlin spokesman recently explained, would prefer to avoid attending the summit so as not to “cause problems” for its organizers.
The war in Gaza is more widely discussed than the war in Ukraine
But would he risk arrest by going to India, a country that remains friendly to Moscow despite the war? Probably not, according to Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, director of the Russia-Eurasia center at IFRI: “Implementing an arrest warrant against a sitting head of state would resemble a diplomatic earthquake and would create an extraordinary precedent. Western countries could do that…” But there is no possibility that pariahs will dare to do that. Indian diplomacy has found a compromise that allows Putin to demonstrate that “Russia is central to global issues while avoiding speculation and ridicule regarding possible arrests,” the researcher added. By also avoiding boycotts of other leaders because of their presence.
However, there will be more talk at this summit, among other global themes (climate, economic, digital, etc.), about the war in Gaza than in Ukraine. For Putin, his return, even virtual, to the G20 marks a diplomatic boon. Firstly, because this format “brings together countries representing about 60% of the world’s population and 85% of trade,” emphasizes Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean. The exclusion itself would deprive Russia of a valuable platform that combines Western and non-Western countries, especially the majority of Brics countries” (developing countries, China, Brazil, India, South Africa, etc.).
A platform to strengthen its leadership in the countries of the South
It is also an advantage that the Kremlin leader can use this platform to strengthen his leadership in the countries of the South, from Africa to Asia through the Arab world. However, not only have these countries not turned their backs on Russia because of the Ukraine conflict, which they consider an inter-European affair, but many of them have even strengthened their ties with Ukraine. Therefore, Putin’s voice was considered, this Tuesday, at the extraordinary virtual Brics summit, in which he participated, also via video conference. This summit, held under South African auspices, called for an “immediate humanitarian ceasefire,” leading to a ceasefire.
Everything happened as if Putin was the big winner of the Israel-Hamas war. First of all, it serves as a diversion from the protracted Ukrainian conflict. In particular it forced the United States, Israel’s main ally, to concentrate their diplomatic, financial and military efforts on the region. And this gives Russia the opportunity, emphasizes Tatiana Kastouéva-Jean, “to demonstrate the double standards of the West and act as a defender of the Palestinian cause, which resonates in the Arab world and the countries of the South”.
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