On Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping met with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin in Moscow. The two-day visit is the first time Xi has visited Russia since the invasion of Ukraine commenced in February last year.
Putin welcomed Xi to Russia as his “dear friend” just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian President for allegedly committing war crimes.
Official talks are scheduled for the second day of the visit on Tuesday. However, the two leaders have already spoken with each other on an informal basis. The war in Ukraine is expected to be the major point of discussion during the visit.
Xi Jinping and Putin meet in Moscow
Putin said that Russia had studied China’s 12-point peace plan, which was unveiled on the one-year anniversary of the war’s beginning on February 24. Moscow, which has become increasingly diplomatically isolated, is anxious to maintain close relations with its ally Beijing.
Xi complimented Putin’s “strong leadership” and said that he was sure that the Russian people would re-elect him during the 2024 presidential election.
The two presidents will reportedly meet over dinner this evening. According to Russian media, they will enjoy a seven-course banquet of mainly Russian dishes, including nelma (fish) sourced from Russia’s Pechora River, a traditional Russian seafood soup, and pancakes with quail. Russian wine will be served alongside the meal.
Xi Jinping praises Vladimir Putin’s ‘strong leadership’ in Kremlin talks https://t.co/h4l8plUmCe
— Financial Times (@FT) March 20, 2023
Speculation and debate surrounding China’s relationship with Russia have been rife since the beginning of the war in Ukraine. In particular, foreign affairs officials are anxious to see whether Xi’s meeting with Putin will result in firmer Chinese support for Russia.
Ukraine and the West are especially concerned that China might supply Russia with military hardware and munitions, like artillery shells, which both sides in the conflict have been using up rapidly. Any kind of military support would certainly benefit Russian forces, which have performed below prior expectations in the conflict thus far.
For Russia, maintaining a strong bilateral relationship with China is a strategic imperative, given Moscow’s growing diplomatic isolation. However, the Kremlin must also be careful to ensure that Russia does not grow dependent on China.
Meanwhile, Ukraine has taken a cautious approach to Xi’s visit to Russia and has not issued any condemnations or criticism. Instead, Ukrainian officials have emphasized points of common ground contained in the 12-point peace plan, especially those stressing respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Beijing could play a significant role in brokering peace between Moscow and Kyiv, as well as in reconstruction efforts in Ukraine after the war. Chinese military support for Russia could also tip the balance of the conflict in the latter’s favor.
For these reasons, Ukraine has avoided provoking China and has instead opted to wait and see what happens after the meeting between Xi and Putin.