President Vladimir Putin admitted on Thursday that China had “questions and concerns” about Russia’s war UkraineA remarkable, if cryptic, acknowledgment is that Moscow does not have the full support of its biggest, most powerful partner on the world stage.
Putin met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on Thursday In their first personal meeting since Russia invaded Ukraine, and as Xi traveled abroad for the first time since the start of the pandemic. But instead of demonstrating Eurasian unity against the West, as Russia struggles to recover from a humiliating military withdrawal in northeast Ukraine last week, the two leaders struck conflicting notes in their public remarks – and Xi criticized Ukraine at all. not mentioned.
“We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends regarding the Ukrainian crisis,” Putin said on television at the start of the meeting. “We understand your questions and concerns in this regard.”
It was a moment on the sidelines of a regional summit in Uzbekistan that showed the difficult political crisis Putin finds himself in nearly seven months into his invasion of Ukraine. On the battlefield, Russia has lost more than 1,000 square miles of territory this month, which presents the prospect of a decisive victory as usual over western-armed Ukraine. At home, Putin is facing unusual criticism from some supporters for his slow military progress.
And internationally, as the West continues to lift sanctions against the Kremlin, the Russian president on Thursday saw Xi – who had promised a friendship with “no borders” just three weeks before Russia’s invasion – clear explicitly withheld any public support for Putin’s war.
Putin told Xi Jinping that Russia “understands your questions and concerns” about Ukraine. Does this mean… China has something? pic.twitter.com/Zd5XNW7cMD
— Max Seddon (@maxseddon) September 15, 2022
Instead, in a statement issued after the leaders’ meeting, China said it was “ready to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibility of a major country, to play a leading role, and to inject stability into a turbulent world.” Is.” To scholars studying the message amid the Chinese government’s public comments, it seemed like an implicit rebuke.
Sergei Radchenko, a professor at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, said the statement was “a rebuke to the Russians, that they are not acting like a great power, that they are creating instability, as the Telegraph showed.” give.” Xi Yinhong, a longtime professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing, said it was “the prudent or least important statement from Xi in years on the strategic relationship between the two countries.”
Adding to the dissonance, even when Xi said nothing on camera about Ukraine, Putin supported Beijing in its confrontation at Thursday’s meeting. TaiwanWhere tensions escalated last month amid a visit by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to support Taiwan’s resistance to pressure from Beijing, which claims a self-governing island democracy.
Still, China continues to represent an important lifeline for Russia as Moscow seeks new export and import markets amid the crush of Western sanctions on the war. China has increased its purchases of Russian energy, while Russia is selling more cars and some other goods to Russia. This support is “very important for Russia”, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, who believed that China’s support to the Kremlin had been “accepted” about the limits.
— South China Morning Post (@SCMPNews) September 16, 2022
After their one-on-one talks on Thursday, Xi and Putin held a joint meeting with Mongolia’s President Ukhnagin Khuralsukh, whose country is in talks about hosting a new natural gas pipeline that would allow Russia to provide more of its natural gas to China. will allow the sale of Siberian gas. , instead of Europe.
A Russian deputy prime minister, Alexander Novak, said Russia was close to reaching an agreement to sell 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year to China via the planned pipeline – similar to the capacity of the defunct Nord Stream 2 pipeline connecting Russia With Germany about the quantity. However, such a pipeline would require years to complete.
“We keep a close watch on the international situation,” Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said of the talks between Putin and Xi. He promised that Russian and Chinese officials would coordinate closely at the UN General Assembly in New York next week.
Although Chinese state media has echoed Russian propaganda in recent months, China has done little to support Russia in the war and its conflict with the West – a confrontation that Putin described as survival for his country. We do. China appears to have refrained from sending weapons to Russia so far this year, forcing Moscow to ask Iran and North Korea for military equipment, according to US officials. And it has done little to help Russia evade Western sanctions that prevent it from importing advanced Western technology.
“Access to Western technology, Western markets, Western money is paramount” for China, Gabuev said, explaining why Xi was unwilling to support Russia, which could lead to Western sanctions against Beijing.
US officials say Russia and China see each other as useful in challenging the West, but also that Putin and Xi will go so far as to support each other. Russia is seeking material aid from China for its war effort, State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference on Thursday. But US officials said this week that they had not yet seen any such aid given to China.
“The most shocking thing is that Putin has admitted that President Xi is concerned about Russia’s war against Ukraine,” Price said. “It is not surprising that the PRC has such concerns. It is somewhat curious that only President Putin will acknowledge it.”
Radchenko, the professor, said Putin had “severely undermined his advantage with China” by cutting himself off from the West. The Chinese government, he said, saw the war as a damaging development, as the resulting turmoil in global food and energy markets “created an environment that is not conducive to China’s economic growth.”
This is the first meeting between Chinese President Xi and Russian President Putin since the attack on Ukraine.
— Bloomberg Quicktake (@Quicktake) September 15, 2022
“Putin is extremely careless,” said Radchenko. “And he is willing to take a risk that China will not accept.”
Putin and Xi met on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security-focused organization that includes China, Russia, India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan also attended and is expected to meet with Putin on Friday. Russian state television reminded viewers that the gathered leaders represented more than half of the world’s population, a message intended to refute the idea that the invasion of Ukraine had alienated Putin.
But for Xi, analysts said, the summit was as much about building ties with other countries in the region as it was about looking to Putin. China’s state broadcaster showed videos of Xi being brought to much fanfare and fanfare upon arrival in Kazakhstan, where he stopped on Wednesday before being greeted by an honor guard, dancers and musicians in Uzbekistan.
For China, “it’s not basically about Sino-Russia – they’ve spent a lot of time cultivating their neighbors across the border,” said Ivan A. Feigenbaum, an Asia expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Feigenbaum said that while Beijing wants to show diplomatic support for Russia, to counter US dominance, it will also avoid any move that could attract sanctions that could further damage China’s slowing economy. At the same time, he said, China is trying to provide rhetorical assurances to former Soviet republics in Central Asia that have been made uneasy by the Ukraine war — an invasion that prompted some that Putin would use force to regroup. are ready to try. Soviet Empire.
Professor Xi in Beijing said that Xi and Putin have almost certainly been in regular communication for months and know each other well, so talking to them is less for Xi than talking with Central Asian leaders. was important.
“It is not so important or necessary to talk with Putin after so many online conversations in the past 200 days,” he said, “while Russia’s failure in the current campaign in the region makes China’s prudence and military non-participation all the more imperative.” Is.”
(Written by Anton Troyanovsky and Keith Bradsher)