Ahmadinejad defies unrest with escape to Russian talks

It was business as usual for Mahmoud Ahmadinejad yesterday, as he used a summit in Russia to attack the United States for causing the global economic crisis, without once mentioning his disputed election win or the mass protests sweeping his capital city.

The only clue that something might be afoot back home was the Iranian President's arrival and departure times. He had been due to arrive in the Urals city of Yekaterinburg on Monday but in the end only flew in yesterday morning. And he left before a scheduled press conference last night.

Mr Ahmadinejad and the Russian President Dmitry Medvedev were all smiles and jokes for the cameras, ahead of their bilateral meeting. That had ended up being very short because of the time constraints, according to a Kremlin spokesman – "they did not even sit down".

The summit that had brought Mr Ahmadinejad to town was that of the Shanghai Co-operation Organisation (SCO), a loose grouping of Russia, China and four Central Asian states that has positioned itself as an Eastern answer to Nato and where Iran, along with India and Pakistan, has observer status.

The Iranian leader was never likely to face criticism of his election win here. Iran is one of the more democratic countries in the grouping, which includes dictators such as Uzbekistan's Islam Karimov, whose regime is one of the nastiest in the world. And sure enough, while Western powers have avoided recognising Mr Ahmadinejad's re-election, the SCO grouping showed no such caution, congratulating him on his victory. "We welcome the... President on Russian soil," the Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov told reporters, "and see it as symbolic that he made his first visit to Russia. This allows hope for progress in bilateral relations."

Russia, which has a veto on the UN Security Council, has been instrumental in helping Iran develop nuclear capabilities. Many analysts suggest that Russia's leaders are keen to use their close relationship with Iran as a bargaining chip in other contentious issues with Washington, such as the proposed US missile shield in eastern Europe.

At no point during his day-trip to Russia did Mr Ahmadinejad mention the mass demonstrations and public anger back home. However, he did use the platform to lay into his rhetorical enemy of choice. "America is in the grip of political and economic crisis," he told the summit. "The US and its allies are unable to deal with the crisis."

During a televised meeting of the organisation's presidents, Mr Ahmadinejad said: "We are certain that the current problems have an ideological basis, and the current political and economic structures are coming to the end of their rule over the world. It's very evident that the epoch of empire is over, and will never be revived."