Putin and Xi celebrate unbroken ties over Russia’s war in Ukraine
Side by side in a show of steadfast partnership by Russia’s year-long war in Ukraine, President Vladimir V. Putin and China’s top leader, Xi Jinping, began talks in Moscow on Monday with boasts about their close ties and an understated mention of the conflict itself.
Although war and the schisms it revealed loomed large over the meeting, public comments about it from Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin were muted, despite the cascading consequences of the past year, including including Western sanctions against Russia, energy crises in Europe and devastation in Ukraine.
Instead, the leaders went to great lengths to flatter themselves and project unity in a series of meticulously choreographed events. Mr. Xi is the most high-profile world leader to visit Russia since the invasion, and he arrived for the three-day visit as bloody battles continued in eastern Ukraine and only three days after the Russian leader was cited for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.
The imagery of the alliance, in gestures if not a formal treaty, has stoked concern in the West that China may go further than diplomacy or economics in its support for Russia – perhaps with weapons to use in Mr. Putin’s war – and entrench a powerful bloc opposed to NATO and the United States.
“Dear friend, welcome to Russia,” Putin told Xi, after the Chinese leader was greeted with a red carpet and military band.
Mr Putin told his host that China was “envy” because its government had built a “very efficient system to develop the economy and strengthen the state”. Mr Xi expressed ‘deep gratitude’ to Mr Putin and said he was “sure that the Russian people will certainly continue to firmly support you”, according to Xinhua.
They sat by a small fireside table, a far more intimate setting than the extremely long room where Mr Putin held tense meetings with Western leaders before Russia invaded Ukraine.
But behind the screen of friendship was against a backdrop of ruthless geopolitics. Both China and Russia oppose a world order dominated by the United States and its allies, and that seems to outweigh any objections Mr. Xi might have about the invasion of Ukraine by Mr Putin.
Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken on Monday criticized the visit, saying it was “diplomatic cover for Russia to continue committing” war crimes. The international court has accused Putin of being responsible for the kidnapping and deportation of Ukrainian children, and Russian forces continue to target civilian areas.
The trip, Mr. Blinken said, “suggests that China does not feel responsible for holding the president accountable for atrocities in Ukraine.”
Mr Putin, in an article published in People’s Daily, the main newspaper of China’s ruling Communist Party, drew a parallel between the threats he believes face Russia from the West – that who he says prompted him to invade Ukraine – and the security of Beijing. concerns in Asia.
He described cooperation between Russia and China as an essential counterbalance to a West that seeks to dominate not only Eastern Europe but also the Asia-Pacific region, and which aims to “contain the development of our countries “.
“It is the Russian-Chinese relations which today represent practically the cornerstone of regional and even global stability,” Putin wrote.
According to a Chinese summary of their meeting in the Kremlin, Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin: “The majority of countries support the easing of tensions, advocate peace negotiations and oppose adding fuel to the flames. Historically, conflicts must finally be settled through dialogue and negotiations.
The cautious remarks were in line with the delicate stance China has taken on the war, sympathizing with Russia’s grievances against Western influence and NATO while calling for talks to end the fighting. Consistent with this ambiguity, Xi called the fighting in Ukraine a “crisis” or a “conflict,” but not a war or an invasion.
If there was progress on the most closely watched aspect of the summit – whether Mr Xi could coax Mr Putin into serious peace negotiations – there was no evidence of it at the end of the first day. . Mr Putin said only that Russia had “carefully studied” China’s peace proposals and would treat them “with respect”.
A White House spokesman, John F. Kirby, said, “We’ll see what they come out of this meeting talking about.” Calling the Beijing-Moscow alliance a “marriage of convenience”, he said arming Russia would run counter to Mr Xi’s public statements that China wants peace.
For Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi’s visit is also an opportunity to ease tensions over the killing of nine Chinese nationals at a gold mine in the Central African Republic, which Mr. Xi has condemned. There are competing claims on who was responsible, but some blame a group of Russian mercenaries,
Talks by Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin will continue on Tuesday, when they will be joined by larger delegations of government officials. They also plan to address the media and host a state banquet attended by Russian business leaders.
The two men have met about 40 times since Mr. Xi became the national leader, but while they have made the partnership deeper than ever, the war disrupted their relationship, even as it deepened Russia’s reliance on China for trade and diplomatic support.
The war has been a source of instability for Beijing, damaging Chinese relations with European countries. It has also amplified global economic and energy tensions at a time when Mr. Xi wants to focus on China’s post-pandemic economic reconstruction.
In recent weeks, Xi has tried to reassert China’s global role after its self-imposed pandemic isolation. Beijing has cast itself as a potential peace broker, arranging talks that led to a meaningful deal this month between Saudi Arabia and Iran and releasing its overarching 12-point framework for ending the fighting.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he would welcome the opportunity to speak with Mr. Xi, but it is unclear whether the leaders intend to speak.
Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang spoke by phone last week with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba and urged Ukraine and Russia to negotiate. “No matter how great the difficulties and challenges, the door should not be closed to a political solution,” Qin told him, according to the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
But there are formidable obstacles.
Mr Putin, in his Monday article, signaled that Russia would only engage in talks if it retained control of captured territory in eastern and southern Ukraine. The Ukrainian government ruled out ceding territory in exchange for peace.
“The first and main point is the surrender or withdrawal of Russian occupation troops,” Oleksiy Danilov, head of Ukraine’s National Security and Defense Council, said in a statement Monday.
Neither Russian nor Ukrainian forces have shown any slowdown in fighting along the sprawling front. Hundreds of soldiers die or are injured every day on each side, according to military analysts.
Even if China wants to play a role in ending the bloodshed, Mr. Xi is unlikely to put pressure on Mr. Putin, which could jeopardize their wider partnership, many analysts say. Mr Xi sees Beijing’s tie with Moscow as key to offsetting US global dominance.
“Western countries led by the United States have implemented a complete containment, encirclement and suppression of China,” he said in a speech this month.
William Klein, a former US diplomat based in Beijing, said the visit to Moscow “must demonstrate very clearly that China does indeed view Russia as an indispensable strategic partner.”
“Whatever China may think of the war, it sees Russia as a key to creating a counterbalance to American pressure,” said Klein, now a consulting partner for FGS Global. “China should not be expected to recalibrate its core interests because of this war.”
The loss of firm support from Russia could leave China dangerously exposed, Chinese foreign policy experts have argued, even in the wake of Mr Putin’s invasion.
Yang Jiemian, a senior foreign policy researcher in Shanghai, wrote in an assessment last month that while “Russia is constantly weakened to the point where it cannot, will not, or dare not fight the United States and the West, it will eventually leave China facing totally unfavorable strategic circumstances.
Marc Santora contributed reporting from Kyiv, Ukraine, Ivan Nechepurenko from Tbilisi, Georgia, Olivia Wang from Hong Kong, and Michael Crowley And Katie Rogers from Washington.