EPAXi and Putin toast their relationship
NOS Nieuws•vandaag, 20:51
Sjoerd den Daas
Sjoerd den Daas
Trade and Ukraine. Those two topics were at the top of the agenda of talks between Russian President Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Both leaders say they support peace talks to end the war in Ukraine, but analysts are skeptical of China’s intentions.
Chinese state television can’t get enough of Xi’s visit to Russia, the first since the party boss and president entered his third term. “Symbolic,” says Professor Artyom Lukin of the Far Eastern Federal University in Vladivostok. “Just like ten years ago, he is choosing Russia now, just after his re-election as president.”
Putin ‘bit jealous’
Last night the presidents already had a big dinner. “I always call you my dear friend,” said Xi, who spoke with Putin for no less than 4.5 hours over sturgeon soup, venison and a pomegranate sorbet. “In recent years, China has made colossal leaps in its development. We are even a little jealous,” Putin said in turn to his powerful neighbor with admiration.
The main corridor, the substantive conversations, were saved for today. Trade and technology were discussed; a series of agreements was signed. It was a “deepening of the two countries’ comprehensive strategic coordination partnership for the new era”, a reference to Xi Jinping’s tenure himself.
The “partnership without borders”, an alliance the two made shortly before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, was not reflected in the statement.
EPAXi and Putin feature prominently on the front page of this Chinese newspaper
Trade between the two countries has intensified due to the war. In the first two months of this year, China imported more oil from Russia than from Saudi Arabia, which was the largest supplier last year. Plans for the construction of a second gas pipeline to China have not yet been hammered away.
“Of course China doesn’t mind if Russia gives discounts on oil and gas and other raw materials,” says professor Lukin. China is benefiting from a weakened Russia, but is wary of further destabilization of its northern neighbour. “China’s main interest is that Russia is not defeated, maybe even that Russia wins this war. If Russia is defeated, China will be alone in the confrontation with the United States. That could be a motivation to offer military aid. “
China has so far said it will not supply arms to Russia, and seems to be permeated by the red lines in the West.
‘Limited influence on Putin’
Xi’s China is currently the parent in the relationship, although experts believe that his power over Putin is limited. “They celebrate birthdays, drink vodka, have nice dinners. But the reality is that there are very few people who really influence Putin,” said Temur Umarov of the Carnegie Institute in the Kyrgyz capital of Bishkek. He specializes in China and Central Asia. “You may see Russia adopting more Chinese positions.”
For the 12-point plan that China presented earlier, it is in any case already getting their hands together in Moscow. “The peace plan can be used as a basis for a peaceful solution when they are ready in the West and in Kyiv,” Putin said.
In the plan, China calls for peace talks. There is no mention of the withdrawal of Russian troops. “The so-called peace plan is not a real plan,” Umarov says. “It’s weak, unrealistic and doesn’t solve the problems.”
Preparing for greater conflict?
Beijing is deliberately throwing up a smoke screen, he thinks. “China does not want to get involved in the war in Ukraine at all.” An intended video call from Xi to Ukrainian President Zelensky, the first since the invasion, Umarov sees mainly as an attempt to accommodate the West. “That conversation is being held specifically in light of Xi’s visit to Moscow so that he doesn’t look like a leader who supports Russia.”
“China did not start this war, but it has benefited from it,” Umarov continues. “A status quo in which this conflict continues for years and the West spends a lot of time and money supporting Ukraine, means that China is more left alone. It has time to prepare for a larger conflict with the West. “