Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in person for the first time since the start of the Ukraine war, as the two countries displayed growing ties in the wake of major battlefield setbacks for Moscow.
Mr. Putin told his Chinese counterpart on Thursday that Moscow highly values what he called Beijing’s balanced position regarding the Ukraine crisis. He added that China raised its concerns regarding the conflict and that the Kremlin would clarify its position on Ukraine, without explaining further.
“We understand your questions and your concerns,” he said, in remarks broadcast on Russian state television from the meeting, which took place at a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan.
He also struck out at the U.S. for what he called provocations in Taiwan and said Moscow would adhere to its “One China” policy, which asserts that the People’s Republic of China is the sole legitimate government of China.
With the world’s second-largest economy and a shared interest in countering the West, China may be Russia’s most important partner as Moscow weathers many international economic sanctions. At their last meeting, just before the start of the war, the two leaders declared that the relationship between the two countries has “no limits.”
At the time Russia had nearly 200,000 soldiers within striking distance of Kyiv. Since then Russia’s invading forces have been driven back from the capital and dealt a number of battlefield blows. Last week a Ukrainian advance routed Russian soldiers in northeastern Ukraine. On the heels of that and other defeats that have raised questions about Russian capabilities, Mr. Putin might need to dial down his expectations for meaningful assistance from Mr. Xi or their Central Asian counterparts.
“This meeting is occurring mere days after Russia suffered catastrophic battlefield setbacks in Ukraine,“ said Craig Singleton, a former U.S. diplomat and a senior China fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a conservative think tank based in Washington, D.C. “Putin almost certainly understands that China’s support for Russia’s war in Ukraine will remain performative.”
While China has been an important trading partner for Russia, with Beijing’s oil purchases helping to offset a decline in exports to Europe, Beijing has been careful not to run afoul of Western sanctions. Chinese leaders have said the country isn’t selling weapons to Russia.
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