When Russian President Vladimir Putin dials into the virtual BRICS summit hosted by Beijing on Thursday, it will be his first time attending a forum with the heads of major economies since launching an invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.

For Putin, this could offer a welcome picture: his face beamed onscreen alongside other leaders whose countries make up this acronymous grouping: China’s Xi Jinping, India’s Narendra Modi, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, and South Africa’s Cyril Ramaphosa — a signal that Russia, though battered by sanctions and remonstrations for the invasion, is not alone.

It’s a message that may resonate even more clearly as China and Russia, weeks before the invasion, declared their own relationship to have “no limits,” and as each of the BRICS leaders have avoided condemning Russia outright, even as they hold varying levels of interest in not being seen to endorse its actions — and run foul of Western friends.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, top left, along with Chinese President Xi, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and the host, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, attend the 13th BRICS summit via video link on September 9, 2021. (Yue Yuewei/Xinhua/Getty Images)

Below the surface, Putin’s invasion is likely to throw another complication into BRICS, a more than a decade-old grouping of major emerging economies, which already suffers from mistrust between members and mismatched ideologies.

But the decision by the group to press ahead with its 14th annual summit does reflect a view held by BRICS countries on the global order and, by extension, the situation in Ukraine, that departs from that of the West, experts say.

“We’re talking about some very major economies whose leadership is willing to be seen with Putin, even if it is only on a virtual platform,” said Sushant Singh, a senior fellow at the Center for Policy Research (CPR) in New Delhi.
“The fact that Putin is welcome, he’s not a pariah, he’s not being pushed out — and this is a normal engagement, which has taken place every year and it’s still taking place — that is a big plus for Putin,” he said.

Editor’s Note: A version of this post appeared in CNN’s Meanwhile in China newsletter, a three-times-a-week update exploring what you need to know about the country’s rise and how it impacts the world. Sign up here.

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