Putin’s talks with Xi focused on the Ukraine war and the Taiwan question. At the meeting in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, Putin thanked China for the “balanced position” Beijing is taking in the Ukraine war. At the same time, Putin condemned political efforts to create a “unipolar world”. These efforts have taken “an absolutely ugly form” and are “completely unacceptable,” Putin said.
Referring to the Taiwan conflict, Putin said Russia supports Beijing’s “one China” policy and rejects Western “provocations”. Putin was alluding to tensions between the US and China, which have increased following the visit of US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan. China regards the democratically governed Taiwan as part of its territory and cracks down on countries that have ties to the island republic.
At the meeting with Xi, Putin said he hoped for a new impetus to deepen the Russian-Chinese partnership. Calling Putin an “old friend,” Xi announced China will work with Russia to bring “stability and positive energy to a chaotic world.” His country is ready to play the role of a “great power” with Russia. Despite the international outrage over Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine, Xi continues to give the Russian president political support.
China had previously adopted the Russian argument, blaming the US and NATO as the main culprits in the conflict. China not only condemns the West’s sanctions against Russia, but also continues to show understanding for Putin’s actions.
The two presidents last met shortly before the start of the war at the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing in early February and vowed their “boundless” friendship. Since then, China has backed Russia and portrayed the United States and NATO as the main culprits in the war. Xi is counting on the partnership with Putin to take a joint front against the West in the growing tensions with rival United States.
Lukashenko thanks China
Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko also thanked China for its support in “difficult times”. China has always been a “stable and reliable” friend for Belarus, Lukashenko said at a meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the summit in Uzbekistan, according to reports from Belarusian state media.
According to the state news agency Belta, Lukashenko said at the meeting with Xi that Belarus had always supported China on issues of principle. He included economic growth and national unity in China. “We are reliable friends, whatever that costs us,” said Lukashenko.
Belarus has been sanctioned by the West because the country served as a base for the Russian military operation in Ukraine in February and because Lukashenko violently crushed opposition protests after the summer 2020 election.
Xi’s first trip abroad since the pandemic began
For Xi, it is the first trip abroad in more than two and a half years. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, he had not left the People’s Republic and hardly received any foreign state guests in Beijing either. Prior to his arrival in Samarkand, Xi was received by Kazakhstan’s President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (R) in the Kazakh capital Nur-Sultan on Wednesday.
While supporting the Russian argument, China is also calling on “all parties involved” to cease hostilities. The Chinese side avoids violating international sanctions so as not to become the target of punitive measures itself. Nevertheless, trade between the two countries has increased significantly. Chinese products fill sanctions-related market gaps in Russia. China is also buying more energy since the West boycotted Russian supplies.
Criticism from the USA: China has a choice to make
Criticism of the meeting came from the US: “This is not the right time for ‘business as usual’ with Mr. Putin given what he is doing in Ukraine,” the National Security Council’s communications director, John Kirby, told the broadcaster on Thursday CNN. “The whole world should rebel against what Mr. Putin is doing.”
Kirby warned, “China has a choice to make.” The Chinese government made a clear decision not to condemn the war in Ukraine. However, China has not violated the sanctions imposed on Russia, and China has not provided Putin with “direct material support” either. It remains to be seen whether Xi will decide to actually do anything material for Russia.
Kirby said the meeting between the two presidents was particularly important for the Kremlin chief, “because Mr. Putin is under a lot of pressure and stress in Ukraine.” His army is not in good shape, Kirby said, referring to Ukraine’s recent military gains in the conflict. It is therefore certainly an advantage for the Kremlin to move closer to China.
Tehran ahead of quick SCO intake
The currently eight-state group led by China and Russia has taken up the cause of security and cooperation and wants to create an alternative to what it sees as a Western-dominated world order. The SCO Group was established in 2001 by China and Russia. The group also includes India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. All of these states play an important role in China’s gigantic infrastructure project, the “Belt and Road Initiative” (BRI) – also known as the “New Silk Road”.
Iran, which previously had observer status, is now to be admitted as the ninth member. After meeting his Iranian counterpart Ebrahim Raisi in Smarkand on Thursday, Putin announced that he would do “everything” to integrate Iran as a permanent member. Raisi stressed that cooperation between the two US-sanctioned countries will make them “stronger”.
Several SCO members have so far not wanted to have a country subject to international sanctions in their ranks – something that now also applies to Russia. Finally, another topic in Uzbekistan is the admission of Belarus, which, like Mongolia, has observer status. Also classified as partners are Armenia, Azerbaijan, Cambodia, Nepal, Sri Lanka and Turkey.
Meeting also with Modi and Erdogan
For Putin, the summit with a total of 15 heads of state and government is important for image reasons. From the Russian point of view, the pictures from the meeting are intended to demonstrate that the country is not isolated internationally after the invasion of Ukraine. In addition to the talks with Raisi, a meeting with the Pakistani Prime Minister Shehbaz Sharif was also on Thursday’s agenda.
On Friday, Putin also wants to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Putin wants to talk to Erdogan about the implementation of the grain agreement. Turkey is a facilitator in the deal that unlocked Ukraine’s seaports after months of a Russian naval blockade.
Lavrov at UN General Assembly
At the upcoming UN General Assembly in New York, Russia will be represented by Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. In addition to his appearance at the meeting itself, Lavrov is also planning around two dozen bilateral meetings with other politicians on the sidelines of the event, his spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said in Moscow on Thursday.
About a month ago, the Russian side announced that Putin would not give a speech in New York this year and that Lavrov would instead head his own delegation. It is also eagerly awaited whether Putin will attend the G-20 summit in Indonesia in November.
In view of the war against Ukraine that began more than six months ago, Russia sees itself under international pressure. The United Nations condemned the Russian attack in an emergency meeting shortly after the war began. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is also scheduled to appear at next week’s General Assembly, most likely via video link.
Meeting in Uzbekistan: Putin sees Xi on his side
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