Amid crisis in Ukraine, Putin in Beijing praises China ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Friday praised “unprecedented” close relations with China, as he met with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Beijing hours ahead of the Winter Olympics opening ceremony.

The two leaders are looking to project themselves as a counterweight to the U.S. and its allies, as China growingly shows support for Moscow in its dispute with Ukraine that threatens to break out into armed conflict.

Putin’s presence makes him the highest-profile guest at the Beijing Games following the decision by the U.S., Britain and others not to send officials in protest of China’s human rights abuses and its treatment of Uyghurs and other Muslim minorities.

Putin said ties with Beijing were a “worthy” example, as Russian television showed his opening remarks.

Relations “are developing in a progressive way with a spirit of friendship and strategic partnership,” Putin said. “They have indeed become unprecedented. It’s an example of dignified relations that support mutual development.”

Putin highlighted close economic ties, including a new contract to supply China with 10 billion cubic meters of gas per year from eastern Russian.

“For our meeting today, our oilmen have prepared very good new solutions for the supply of hydrocarbons to the People’s Republic of China, and another step forward has been taken in the gas industry,” Putin said.

Russia has long been a key supplier of oil, gas and coal for China’s massive economy, now the world’s second largest, along with food stuffs and other raw materials.

China’s state-run news agency reported the two leaders met at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse Friday afternoon, but gave no details. They did not appear to shake hands when greeting each other due to COVID-19 precautions.

Putin also recalled his presence in Beijing for the 2008 Summer Olympics, and the Chinese delegation’s attendance at Russia’s 2014 Winter Games in Sochi, calling such exchanges “to a certain extent a tradition.”

The discussions mark their first in-person meeting since 2019 and come as China and Russia increasingly align their foreign policies bilaterally and in world bodies such as the United Nations, in opposition to the United States-led bloc.

Leaders of the five ex-Soviet Central Asian nations, which have close ties with both Russia and China, all followed Putin’s lead and are attending, along with other states that have political and economic interests with Beijing.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, World Health Organization Director Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus and Director General of the World Intellectual Property Organization Daren Tang were among other dignitaries who arrived Thursday.

The Putin-Xi talks were expected to focus on coordinating their countries’ foreign policies, with Putin writing in an article published Thursday by the Chinese news agency Xinhua that Moscow and Beijing play an “important stabilizing role” in global affairs and help make international affairs “more equitable and inclusive.”

The Russian president criticized “attempts by some countries to politicize sports to the benefit of their ambitions,” an apparent reference to a U.S.-led diplomatic boycott, which does not affect the participation of athletes in the Games.

Yuri Ushakov, Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, said that Moscow and Beijing plan to issue a joint statement that will reflect their shared views on global security, as officials from the two countries are set to sign more than a dozen agreements on trade, energy and other issues.

Ushakov noted that Moscow and Beijing have close or identical stands on most international issues. He said China supports Russia’s demands for security guarantees that have underpinned the standoff over Ukraine.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi told U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken in a call last week that Moscow’s security concerns need to be taken seriously and addressed, a statement that marked a notable policy shift for Beijing.

A buildup of more than 100,000 Russian troops near Ukraine has fueled Western fears that Moscow is poised to invade its neighbor. Russia has denied planning an offensive but urged the U.S. and its allies to provide a binding pledge that NATO won’t expand to Ukraine and other ex-Soviet nations or deploy weapons there, and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe — demands firmly rejected by the West.

Some observers suggested that Beijing is closely watching how the U.S. and its allies act in the standoff over Ukraine as it ponders further strategy on Taiwan, arguing that indecision by Washington could encourage China to grow more assertive.

Russia and China have held a series of joint war games, including naval drills and patrols by long-range bombers over the Sea of Japan and the East China Sea. In August, Russian troops for the first time deployed to Chinese territory for joint maneuvers.

Putin has also noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.

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