Putin hails Russia’s ties with China as ‘stabilizing’ force in the world

Russian President Vladimir Putin touted his country’s relations with China as a “stabilizing” force in the world as he began a two-day state visit Thursday designed to portray him and Chinese President Xi Jinping as leaders offering an alternative to the U.S.-led world order.

The two leaders are at loggerheads with the liberal democratic order on multiple fronts: Western governments have been putting pressure on Russia to end its invasion of Ukraine - and for Beijing to stop supporting the war, diplomatically and materially - while China is being accused of unfair trading practices that upset the global economic order.

Many analysts say the relationship is mostly transactional. But meeting in Beijing on Thursday for the second time in seven months, the pair walked in lockstep from the moment Xi greeted Putin in Tiananmen Square with a red-carpet welcome, complete with cannons firing, soldiers marching and a squad of jumping and cheering children. An orchestra played the popular Soviet-era song “Moscow Nights,” written in 1955.

In remarks after their meetings, Putin vowed to deepen economic ties with China in ways that are “reliably protected from the influence of third parties,” referring to the impacts of U.S.-led sanctions following his invasion of Ukraine.

He called the Sino-Russian relationship a “benchmark of cooperation” and thanked Xi for his efforts to resolve the war in Ukraine. While China has released a vague peace plan and called for an end to the war, it has not expressed strong criticism of Russia’s unprovoked invasion and seizure of territory - clear breaches of the U.N. charter.

“We have always firmly supported each other on issues involving each other’s core interests and major concerns,” Xi said, calling Putin an “old friend” and congratulating him on securing a new term as president.

Putin and Xi reaffirmed their shared vision of a “multipolar” world order, in which countries led by China and Russia can operate by a different set of rules than the ones set by the United States and other liberal democracies.


“Together, we defend the principles of justice and a democratic world order that reflects multipolar realities,” Putin said.

The two leaders spoke before reporters following their meeting in Beijing and after signing bilateral documents and a joint statement on deepening their partnership and strategic cooperation.

China is one of Russia’s only remaining trading partners and diplomatic allies following the invasion and has become a critical economic lifeline as Russia copes with mounting Western sanctions. Putin arrived with a large delegation that includes Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, new Defense Minister Andrei Belousov, several deputy prime ministers, and leaders of state-owned enterprises.

Later on Thursday, Putin also met with Chinese Premier Li Qiang, who is theoretically responsible for the country’s economy. The two leaders discussed how to more closely coordinate their economic interests, according to the Chinese readout of the meeting.

Xi and Putin marked 75 years of diplomatic relations at a celebratory concert, which was followed by a one-on-one meeting and a walk through a park.

The day wrapped up with a closed-door meeting over dinner with Xi, Putin and four top Russian officials: Belousov, Lavrov, Secretary of the Security Council Sergei Shoigu (the former defense minister) and Yuri Ushakov, a top foreign policy adviser. Putin said he planned to discuss the war in Ukraine over dinner.

On Friday, Putin is scheduled to attend the opening of the China-Russia trade fair in Harbin, a northern city close to the border with Russia, highlighting the countries’ increasingly close economic ties.

The trip underscores both leaders’ norm-busting tenures and autocratic tendencies: Xi visited Moscow in March last year, a few months after securing a third term as leader, while Putin’s arrival in Beijing marks his first overseas trip since securing a fifth term as president this month.

China’s ongoing diplomatic and material support for Russia and the war against Ukraine - even as Beijing portrays itself as a potential mediator - troubles democracies, including the United States and those in Western Europe. In France last week, Xi declined to use his influence to pressure Moscow to end the war.

Xi is particularly interested in Russia winning in Ukraine because of what it could mean for his oft-stated ambitions to take control of Taiwan, the island democracy that has never been ruled by the Chinese Communist Party but which Beijing considers a breakaway province.

Xi has been closely watching to see what price Putin has been paying for using military force in Ukraine - and the extent of Western punishment for that force. Taiwan’s leaders - and other allies in the region, like Japan - have repeatedly warned that Ukraine today could be Taiwan tomorrow.

Analysts say Putin and Xi are likely to double down on their transactional relationship during this week’s meetings.

“Putin will push for more Chinese assistance in prosecuting his invasion of Ukraine. Xi will prod for further Russian support for China’s energy, food and national security priorities,” said Ryan Hass, a former China director on the National Security Council during the Obama administration. He is now at the Brookings Institution in Washington.

“They will wrap their respective efforts within an aura of bonhomie and linked arms against Western pressure on them both,” Hass said.

The two leaders declared their countries had a “no limits” partnership just weeks before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. They have met regularly since, with Xi’s trip to Moscow last year and the Russian leader traveling to China seven months later to commemorate a decade of Xi’s signature Belt and Road project.

Their mutual economic interests have grown since the invasion. China’s trade with Russia hit a record $240 billion in 2023 - up 63 percent from 2021, before the invasion, and already reaching a goal they planned for 2024. During that time, exports of Chinese electronics needed to produce precision-guided weapons systems saw a significant spike, Chinese customs data shows.

But trade flows have increased in both directions. Russia last year became China’s biggest oil supplier, as Beijing took advantage of its discounted prices. Western sanctions have isolated Russia, which has relatively few big customers left, and Moscow has turned to China and India as its primary gas and oil customers.


Some analysts note that although Russia is becoming an increasingly important market to China as a source for cheap gas and oil, Russia needs China now more than the other way around. China has a better relationship with the West and is not sanctioned as comprehensively as Russia is, and has a far bigger economy, they say.

Shen Dingli, a Shanghai-based scholar of international relations, said the economic cooperation that the two leaders are trumpeting is due to a strategic but short-term dependence on each other. They have been pushed together by U.S. sanctions.

“Even for energy, there is sufficient energy supply around the world, so China doesn’t have a particular need from Russia. Rather, we import their energy to help lessen the pressure they are under from the West,” Shen said.

China seeks balance in protecting its interests and is unlikely to adopt a stance totally aligned with Russia on controversial topics such as invading Ukraine, Shen said: “One cannot say through a joint statement that Russia has not invaded. Otherwise, how can we partner with other countries in the world?”

Thursday’s meetings also gave the two leaders a chance to assess the state of their cooperation and for Xi to better understand Putin’s thinking on the war, said Wan Qingsong, an associate professor at the Center for Russian Studies at East China Normal University in Shanghai.

“It is time to compare notes with China now that Putin believes Russia is gaining an upper hand against Ukraine and has a bigger say in whether and when to end the war,” Wan said. “China may have a different assessment but needs to listen to what Russia has to say.”

The war has become the organizing principle for Russia’s foreign policy, said Alexander Gabuev, a Russia and China expert with the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center. Every relationship is assessed through three elements, he said: What a country can bring to advance Putin’s war effort in Ukraine; what a country can do for Russia’s revenue streams to counter the impact of Western sanctions; and whether a country can help Moscow push back against the West.

China checks all three boxes, he said. “It shows that Russia doesn’t have any more important foreign partner than China.”


The question is what tangible actions will result from their meetings beyond lofty rhetoric about their partnership. But the most consequential outcomes of their meetings are not likely to be shared publicly, Gabuev said.

Those issues include ways the Russians can circumvent Western sanctions and “how much China will be willing to give at what pace and what visibility, given U.S. concerns and threat of sanctions” on China, he said. They would also discuss Russians’ potentially sharing designs for key technologies and weapons with the Chinese, and the overall strategic direction of their bilateral relations, he said.

“There will be the underwater part of the iceberg,” Gabuev said.

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Lee and Wu reported from Taipei, Taiwan. Lyric Li in Seoul and Natalia Abbakumova in Riga, Latvia, contributed to this report.