Putin, Xi agree to deepen partnership as Russia advances in Ukraine

May 16, 2024
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The U.S., which last month approved $60 billion in military aid for Ukraine that is just starting to arrive, has imposed a series of sanctions on Chinese companies accused of aiding the Russian war effort, and is also threatening to sanction Chinese banks.

During a visit to Beijing last month, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said “Russia would struggle to sustain its assault on Ukraine without China’s support,” and that he had told Chinese officials that “if China does not address this problem, we will.”

Xi, who is seeking to retain or expand overseas markets amid an economic slowdown at home, is also reluctant to alienate leaders in Europe. Last week, during his first visit to the continent in five years, Xi was pressured by French President Emmanuel Macron and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen to use his influence over Putin to end the war in Ukraine.

Xi rejected their criticism of his country’s relationship with Russia, and said China was not a participant in the war. But the pressure may be having an effect: After a record $240 billion in overall trade between China and Russia last year, Chinese exports to Russia fell in March for the first time since 2022.

Russian President Vladimir Putin visits China
Putin and Xi in Beijing on Thursday. Sergei Guneyev / AP

Putin arrived in the Chinese capital early Thursday and was greeted with full military honors outside the Great Hall of the People next to Tiananmen Square, where he shook hands with Xi before heading inside for talks.

In addition to Beijing, Putin is expected to visit the northeastern city of Harbin, near the two countries’ 2,600-mile border, which is holding a China-Russia trade fair this week.

In an interview Wednesday with Xinhua, China’s state-run news agency, Putin cited the “unprecedented level of strategic partnership between our countries” as his reason for making China the first stop of his fifth term.

Among those traveling with Putin is Andrei Belousov, an economist who was named the Russian defense minister this week in a surprise shake-up. His predecessor, Sergei Shoigu, is also on the trip.

Russia’s new offensive in northern Ukraine has made early gains, worrying Kyiv and its allies that Putin’s military may be able to make decisive progress in the coming weeks.

Xi, 70, and Putin, 71, have met more than 40 times, either in person or virtually. Putin was last in Beijing in October, while Xi was in Moscow days after he secured an unprecedented third term as Chinese president in March 2023.

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