Putin still hasn’t ruled out appearing in person at the G20 meeting of major economies on Sept. 9-10 in the Indian capital, New Delhi, according to a Kremlin official who did not want to be named because he does not make public statements.
The Russian president, facing an election in nine months, would like to relaunch himself on the world stage after a period of relative isolation brought on by the war in Ukraine. Like Chinese President Xi Jinping, he would also be keen to woo countries that aren’t solidly in the Western camp at an event closely watched in capitals around the world.
But, in Putin’s worldview, it’s all about the timing.
Going would come with big risks for a leader used to stage-managed media appearances at home and summits abroad with friendly countries such as Belarus, China and Central Asian states where he rarely faces challenging questions in public. It’s a high stakes decision for the embattled Russian leader.
Alexey Maslov, a professor and the director of the Institute of Asian and African Studies at Moscow State University, said the G20 event could be “aggressive toward him politically.”
“The media at the G20 will be particularly dedicated to critics of Russia and the main question is whether President Putin will be able to present the Russian point of view,” Maslov said. “If he can receive no guarantees, he will only appear online or will cancel his participation altogether.”
The Russian leader would almost certainly face awkward questions from journalists, according to Jonathan Eyal, international director of the Royal United Services Institute, a foreign policy think tank in London.
“It’s very difficult to edit it out from the carefully scripted TV coverage in Russia, and it creates a fairly dramatic picture for him to sit in a conference room and be directly confronted with the accusations about his war of aggression in Ukraine,” he said.
These aren’t idle worries. In 2014, after Russia’s annexation of Crimea, Putin was publicly shunned and sidelined during the G20 meeting in Australia.