In Beijing's BRICS summit, Putin is back on the world stage

Chinese President Xi Jinping, Russian President Vladimir Putin, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi and South African President Cyril Ramaphosa pose during a BRICS meeting held during a G20 summit in Osaka in June 2019.

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Hong Kong (CNN)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.
    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.
        While the countries may argue that engaging Russia is better than not, the optics only become sharper in contrast. The BRICS summit is followed days later by the meeting of a bloc of the world's leading advanced economies, the Group of Seven, which have been united in their voice against Russian aggression, and kicked Moscow out of their bloc following its annexation of Crimea in 2014.

        Turbulent times

        Unlike the G7, BRICS is expected to tread carefully when it comes to Ukraine at Thursday's summit, likely speaking in favor of peaceful resolution, even as its members may carefully call for Western countries to examine the impact of their sanctions on the global economy, observers say.
        Beijing -- this year's host and by far the most economically powerful of the five nations, which together make up around a quarter of worldwide GDP -- appears set to focus on its own agenda: promoting its new global development and security initiatives and pushing back on what it sees as "bloc"-building by the United States.
        BRICS countries should "strengthen political mutual trust and security cooperation," coordinate on major international and regional issues, accommodate each other's core interests, and "oppose hegemonism and power politics," Xi said in a speech to BRICS foreign ministers last month, where he called on the group to ​​promote development in this "period of turbulence and transformation."