a struggling Putin increasingly aligns himself with Xi Jinping

Meeting between the two leaders on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit. The Russian Tsar fully supports China’s policy on Taiwan; he appreciates China’s “balanced” line on the Ukraine issue. However, the Chinese president weaves his network in Central Asia, and this is a geopolitical space that the Kremlin claims.

Nur-Sultan () – Russia supports the policy of “one China – the communist China – in Taiwan, condemns the provocations of the United States and its satellites regarding the status of the island and appreciates Beijing’s “balanced position” in the Ukrainian conflict. A total embrace from Vladimir Putin to Xi Jinping, at the beginning of their bilateral meeting in Samarkand (Uzbekistan), on the sidelines of the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO).

Putin is having difficulties on the Ukrainian front: he is suffering from the military counteroffensive in kyiv and the effects of Western sanctions. The Russian tsar needs China’s support more than ever, which Beijing assures with due precautions. The two leaders had not met since early February, when the Beijing Winter Games opened. Three weeks later, Moscow invaded Ukraine, which, according to several sources, angered its Chinese partner.

Before kicking off the bilateral summit, Xi issued a more forceful statement, according to Russian media: “Faced with changes in the world, times and history, China is willing to work with Russia to demonstrate the responsibilities of the world powers and offer guidelines to instill stability and positive energy in a world of chaos”.

The meeting between Xi and Putin comes as their countries’ navy and air force conduct exercises in the Pacific Northwest. In the first week of September, Chinese troops had participated in Russian ground exercises vostok in eastern Siberia.

Despite announcements of a “boundless friendship”, the partnership between the two giants remains “tactical” and “unbalanced”. As for Ukraine, China “unofficially” supports the Russian position, but is careful not to incur indirect Western sanctions: it has increased its purchases of Russian oil, gas and coal, but does not provide military support.

The issue is sensitive for Beijing. Last week, the Chinese regime’s number three, Li Zhanshu, told Russian MPs that China understands Russia’s moves in Ukraine. According to Li, NATO and the United States have threatened Moscow, which has “fought back” to defend its interests. Chinese statements on the Russo-Ukrainian conflict are often more “cautious” – to the point that China’s official media did not publish what Li said during his visit to Russia.

For the Chinese president, the trip to Central Asia is the first visit abroad since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020. Before landing in Uzbekistan, Xi stopped in Kazakhstan for a face-to-face meeting with his Kazakh counterpart. The two sides stated that they wanted to strengthen cooperation in the e-commerce and agriculture sectors and increase investment in technology; For its part, Nur-Sultan (Astana) promised to keep the flow of gas to China stable.

Beijing is the main economic player in Central Asia, but Moscow maintains its preponderance in the military field, at least on paper. Xi’s trip is seen as an opportunity to reassert China’s growing hegemony in the region as Russia grapples with the political and economic fallout of its aggression against Ukraine.



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