The consequences of Russia’s disastrous war in Ukraine has begun unleashing new conflicts around Russia’s former sphere of influence, starting with two new wars in Central Asia—between Azerbaijan and Armenia, and Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. The latter three are members of the Collective Security Treaty Organization (CSTO), Russia’s supposed NATO analogue, yet it hasn’t stopped two of them from firing on each other, and Armenia from angrily dismissing the “alliance” as worthless.
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin really thought he could shatter NATO. Instead, NATO grows as his own world falls apart. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is on her way to Armenia, in a bid to fill the Russian void with American leadership. And Russia’s stock has fallen so far, that Kazakhstan, a former Soviet republic, has turned to China for security guarantees—something Chinese leader Xi Jiapeng was happy to offer on his way to a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) in Uzbekistan. The group, which includes India, Iran, Russia, China, Turkey, and several central Asian nations, has been billed as a counterweight to Western hegemony.
As a geographic block, the SCO is impressive, making up the bulk of the Asian continent, anchored by four of the world’s largest nations by land mass—Russia (1st), China (4th), India (7th), and Kazakhstan (9th). Economically, however, the block is less formidable, with just China (2nd) and India (6th) in the top 10.
Yet the organization does represent several emerging economies, and with Russia and China at the helm, certainly an ideological counterbalance to Western institutions.
As such, Putin hoped the gathering would allow it to showcase diplomatic support for its efforts in Ukraine, and perhaps win some material support for the ongoing war. Instead, the gathering has exposed rifts between Russia and its closest supposed allies, and delivered multiple humiliations to the once high-flying Putin.
It started with China’s aforementioned visit to Kazakhstan on Wednesday, in which China warned Russia against interfering with Kazakhstan’s internal affairs.
“I would like to assure you that the government of China pays huge attention to relations with Kazakhstan,” he said, in remarks quoted in Russian in Tokayev’s office’s readout of the meeting.
“However the international situation changes, going forward we will also resolutely support Kazakhstan in the defense of its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity; firmly support the reforms conducted by you to assure stability and development; [and] categorically come out against interference by any forces in the internal affairs of your country.
On Thursday, Putin was forced to bend the knee to China, acting like a wayward teen offering excuses as he was being put in his place:
"We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today's meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”
Putin’s body language speaks volumes:
He is not the alpha in that exchange, and everyone noticed.
As a cheap power play, Putin has been fond of keeping world leaders waiting. Here at the SCO summit, every leader has decided to return the favor.
The Trump snub was at the famous Helsinki gathering, the one in which he sided with Putin against his own nation’s FBI, and which Sen. John McCain called “one of the most disgraceful performances by an American president in memory." The sniveling Trump, supposed master negotiator, groveled after Putin’s disrespectful snub.
Getting snubbed by the president of mighty Kyrgyzstan was just the start of the humiliation.
Look at those pathetic pictures, as Putin was also left hanging by Turkish president Tayyip Erdoğan (for the second time since Russia invaded Ukraine), Azerbaijani leader Ilham Aliyev, and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was particularly in no mood to play:
Modi’s “era of war” was actually an extension of a 2014 speech in which he he criticized colonialist-style mindsets: "Today we're seeing 18th-century-like expansionism. Encroaching into some countries, into seas and sometimes capturing others' territory." For the first time, Modi has publicly referred to Russia as an aggressor. And we also know that he and Xi have both made their displeasure privately known to Putin before. He really has no friends.
Not that either of those two countries are about to stop buying cheap, discounting Russian oil. Nor Turkey, though Putin admitted that despite Russian demands that all of their energy be purchased in rubles, Turkey would only pay 25% of it in rubles. Putin has no negotiating leverage.
Meanwhile, Putin got his chance to plead his Ukraine case to Xi, and it was all ridiculous bullshit.
Putin can’t actually believe that, can he? Xi’s intelligence agencies are providing their leader with real intelligence, he knows better. Same with Modi in India. Rumors are that China has been particularly alarmed at Russia’s nuclear saber rattling. Other rumors said that Xi smiled when Putin fed him this b.s. Regardless, if Putin wanted to show fellowship from his allies, he got the opposite—snubs, humiliations, and tough questions Putin dare not answer truthfully.
As Mark Sumner wrote earlier today, there’s also interesting happenings in Kherson oblast, but War Mapper likes to play things conservatively before marking changes in his map.
As Mark wrote in his previous piece, don’t go looking for these images. But as investigators exhumed mass graves of tortured and murdered Ukrainians, a skeletal hand was found with a Ukrainian-colored wristband. It’s a soul-crushing, grizzly image, but this meme transforms it into a symbol of defiance.
After his disastrous SCO summit, Putin’s plane diverted from Moscow to head presumably to Putin’s castle in Sochi for an unplanned vacation.
… or maybe he’s purposefully avoiding Moscow intrigue.
I thought the Downfall meme was played out. But it had at least one more life:
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