Speaking in Uzbekistan’s ancient Silk Road city of Samarkand, Russian dictator Vladimir Putin praised Chinese President Xi Jinping for what he called a “balanced” position on the conflict in Ukraine and smeared the United States for, as he put it, provocations over Taiwan.
This is Xi’s first trip outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic – a trip during which he, and the Russian leader, will take part in a summit of The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) organised in Samarkand.
“I am confident that our meeting will give an additional impetus to deepening the Russia-China partnership,” Putin told the Chinese president in a forerun meeting to the Thursday summit.
Also, Putin praised Xi’s take on the war, which Russia started on February 24, calling it balanced. He expressed understanding of Beijing’s “questions and concern” regarding the conflict – in other words – surprise with Russian forces routed during Ukraine’s counter-offensive in the Kherson region.
China has not condemned or called an “invasion” what Moscow has dubbed “a special military operation”.
“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin said. “We understand your questions and concern about this. During today's meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
While Russia has not received upfront backing from China on Ukraine, Putin did explicitly support China over Taiwan. Beijing held blockade-like military drills around Taiwan after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi visited the island last month. Taiwan's government strongly rejects China's sovereignty claims.
“We intend to firmly adhere to the principle of 'One China',” Putin said. “We condemn provocations by the United States and their satellites in the Taiwan Strait.”
Among other topics, the Russian despot told President Xi that the SCO needed to be reinforced.
“We have to strengthen the SCO organisation,” he said.
The relationship between Xi and Putin is very telling of how the top dog became the underdog. Ever since the fall of Soviet Russia and China’s own spectacular rise over the past 40 years, the latter has become the former’s senior partner.
Now both leaders, Xi, born to a Communist revolutionary enamoured with Russian literature, and Putin, who came of age in the Soviet-era KGB, say in unison that their relations have never been better.
Given the war in Ukraine and the West’s stance on it, the past Russian-Chinese altercations had to be buried and a sense of camaraderie fuelled by the two leaders’ shared view of the West as decadent and in decline. China, throwing in the gauntlet to US supremacy reinforces the aligning.
Moreover, Xi has overtly said China would work with Russia.
“In the face of changes in the world, in our times and of history, China is willing to work with Russia to play a leading role in demonstrating the responsibility of major powers, and to instil stability and positive energy into a world in turmoil,” Xi told Putin.