NEW DELHI — Russian President Vladimir Putin told a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) on Tuesday that the Russian people are "consolidated as never before."
It was Putin's first address at a multilateral forum since the Wagner mercenary group staged a short-lived mutiny that raised questions about his grip on power.
He spoke by video link from Moscow at the virtual meeting of the grouping hosted by India's prime minister, Narendra Modi, and attended by, among others, the leaders of China and Pakistan.
"The solidarity and responsibility for the fate of the fatherland was clearly demonstrated by the Russian political circles and the entire society by standing as a united front against the attempted armed rebellion," Putin told the meeting.
"I would like to take this opportunity to thank my colleagues from the (SCO) countries who have expressed support for the actions of the Russian leadership to protect the constitutional order and life and security of citizens," Putin said.
He also said that Russia is standing up to Western pressure, sanctions and "provocations."
Analysts said that for Putin, the summit was an opportunity to showcase that he is firmly in charge and also underline that Moscow is not isolated in the wake of its war in Ukraine.
All the members of the SCO have either abstained or not voted in favor of United Nations sanctions against Russia in the aftermath of the Ukraine conflict.
Founded by Russia and China in 2001 to counter Western alliances, SCO members include India, Pakistan and the Central Asian republics of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan – all countries that are close to Moscow.
On Tuesday, Iran became the ninth country to join the SCO, expanding the group's reach. Belarus is expected to be admitted as a member by next year, according to India's foreign ministry. Both Iran and Belarus have good relations with Moscow.
In his address to the summit, Chinese President Xi Jinping said achieving regional peace and stability was a common responsibility. "We must formulate foreign policies independently based on the overall and long-term interests of the region," he said, according to Chinese state news agency Xinhua. He called on members to "focus on practical cooperation and accelerate economic recovery."
Indian Prime Minister Modi called on member countries to jointly fight terrorism, help Afghanistan and tackle global challenges such as food, fuel and fertilizer shortages.
He said the group should not hesitate to criticize countries that are "using terrorism as an instrument of its state policy."
The statement is seen as a reference to Pakistan, which India accuses of fomenting terrorism in Indian-ruled Kashmir. Islamabad denies the charge.
In reference to India's three-year military standoff with China along their disputed border, Modi also stressed the need to respect territorial integrity.
In his speech, Pakistan's prime minister, Shehbaz Sharif, denounced terrorism and said that his country's "sacrifices" in fighting it are "without parallel."
The SCO summit also underlined how India is trying to maintain a delicate geopolitical balance as it comes closer to the U.S. while maintaining ties with Russia.
New Delhi hosted the meeting less than two weeks after India and the U.S. tightened their partnership during a state visit by Prime Minister Modi to Washington.
While India has serious differences with China and Pakistan, it has maintained close ties with its long-time ally, Russia, and wants to build ties with Central Asian countries.
In a phone call last week with the Russian president, Modi reiterated India's call for diplomacy and dialogue to resolve the Ukraine war – a stance it has maintained since Moscow's invasion.
"The fact that India can have such strong positive relations with the United States and also be part of the SCO speaks about India's strategic autonomy and self-assuredness," Ashok Sajjanhar, a former diplomat and president of the Institute of Global Studies, wrote in the Indian Express newspaper on Tuesday.
While India chose to host the SCO summit in a virtual format, it will face a diplomatic challenge when it hosts the G-20 summit in September because the forum includes Russia, China and the U.S.
Some information in this article came from Reuters and the Associated Press.