Putin courts Xi as Russia seeks to deepen ties with China amid Ukraine war

Click to play video: 'Putin acknowledges allies’ concerns about war in Ukraine'
Putin acknowledges allies’ concerns about war in Ukraine
WATCH: Putin acknowledges allies' concerns about war in Ukraine – Dec 26, 2022

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Friday he was expecting Chinese President Xi Jinping to make a state visit early next year in what would be a public show of solidarity from Beijing as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine falters.

But an official Chinese readout of a video summit between the two leaders highlighted differences in approach to their developing alliance, making no mention of a visit and stressing that Beijing, which has declined to back or condemn the invasion, would maintain its “objective and fair” stance.

Read more: Beijing will deepen ties with Russia next year, China’s foreign minister signals

Since sending troops into Ukraine in February, Russia has turned its back on Western powers that have ostracized it economically and politically and armed Ukraine, courting the rising global power of long-time rival China instead.

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“We are expecting you, dear Mr. Chairman, dear friend, we are expecting you next spring on a state visit to Moscow,” Putin told Xi in an effusive eight-minute introductory statement broadcast on state television.

“This will demonstrate to the whole world the strength of Russian-Chinese ties on key issues.”

He also said he aimed to boost military cooperation with China – although there was no mention of this in the Chinese state broadcaster CCTV’s report of the call.

Although Xi called Putin his “dear friend,” his introductory statement, at around a quarter the length of Putin’s, was far more pragmatic in tone.

Click to play video: 'Russia renews missile attacks on key Ukrainian infrastructure'
Russia renews missile attacks on key Ukrainian infrastructure

The two men had signed a “no limits” strategic partnership in February, informed by shared distrust of the West, a few days before Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine in what it terms a “special military operation.”

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The United States said after the call that it was “concerned” by China’s alignment with Russia, and reiterated it had warned Beijing of consequences should it provide Russia with military assistance for its war against Ukraine or assistance in evading Western sanctions.

“We are monitoring Beijing’s activity closely,” a State Department spokesperson said. “Beijing claims to be neutral, but its behavior makes clear it is still investing in close ties to Russia.”

U.S. officials have consistently said they have yet to see Beijing provide material support to Russia for the war, a move that could provoke sanctions against China.

Click to play video: '‘Potentially possible’ for U.S. to be at war with China: Secretary of State'
‘Potentially possible’ for U.S. to be at war with China: Secretary of State

Trade soars

Since major Western economies responded to the invasion with an unprecedented, coordinated barrage of sanctions, Russia has been forced to seek other markets, and has overtaken Saudi Arabia as the top crude supplier to China. Bilateral trade has soared and financial ties have been expanded.

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On Friday, Russia’s Finance Ministry doubled the maximum possible share of Chinese yuan in its National Wealth Fund (NWF) to 60% as Moscow tries to “de-dollarise” its economy and end dependency on “unfriendly” nations including the United States, European Union members and Britain and Japan.

Moscow has also publicly backed Xi’s position on Taiwan and accused the West of trying to provoke a conflict over the status of the self-governing island, which China claims as its own.

Putin told Xi: “You and I share the same views on the causes, course and logic of the ongoing transformation of the global geopolitical landscape, in the face of unprecedented pressure and provocations from the West.”

Read more: Japan plans military build-up as China, Russia stoke war fears

However, Xi has been less vocal in his criticism of Western countries that are China’s key export market, and has appeared cool on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

China has refrained from condemnation, instead stressing the need for peace, but Putin in September publicly acknowledged that his Chinese counterpart had “concerns” about Russia’s actions.

Xi did, however, tell Putin on Friday that China was ready to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the backdrop of what he called a “difficult” situation in the world at large.

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Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the meeting had been substantive and constructive, but that no date had yet been set for Xi’s visit.

(Reporting by Reuters; Additional reporting by Eduardo Baptista in Shanghai and Michael Martina in Washington; Writing by Kevin Liffey; Editing by Andrew Heavens, Tomasz Janowski and Nick Macfie)

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