WASHINGTON (TND) — Russia and China have reaffirmed their partnership over the course of a multi-day summit in Moscow between the leaders of the two nations that promised further economic engagement and criticized the U.S. and other Western nations for enacting sanctions and other policy decisions that they claim are trying to limit their growth and influence.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping have met for the past three days at the Kremlin, where they announced deeper partnerships on their economy, strategic plans and complaints of Western hostility toward the two authoritarian nations.
China’s continued economic and political support for Russia comes as most of Europe has enacted harsh sanctions on Russia as a result of the war in Ukraine. Putin has also faced some backlash domestically as the war has slogged on and he has been forced to call up reservists as Ukrainian troops, bolstered by support from NATO allies, have held ground and fought back stronger than the Kremlin anticipated before its invasion began over a year ago.
“It's a publicity coup for Putin in terms of being seen as a world leader at the time when the (International Criminal Court) is going after him,” said Dan Hamilton, a senior fellow at Johns Hopkins’ SAIS Foreign Policy Institute. “The fact that he went to Mariupol the day before he saw Xi, in my view is a sign of weakness. The public opinion is turning against him in Russia, and I think he's having to shore up morale and his own troops, and it's hard to know how he's really going to move ahead on this.”
The ICC issued an arrest warrant for Putin for alleged war crimes late last week, and Putin made a trip to Russian-occupied Mariupol two days later, the first time he visited the Ukrainian territory illegally annexed last fall.
China has already ramped up its economic ties to Russia as the U.S. and NATO allies have tried to isolate it in response to the invasion. That isolation has forced Russia to turn to other countries like North Korea and Iran for help in sustaining its military offenses.
China has not yet supplied military equipment to Russia during the war, but its economic support has helped Russia deal with sanctions and U.S. officials have said Beijing could use military aid to supplement its investments in Russian energy. The U.S. said it has conducted high-level talks with Chinese officials warning of “stakes and consequences” for providing lethal aid to Russia.
Russia is looking to China sort of as a lifeline because the sanctions are starting to bite, and its stockpiles of munitions and things are low,” Hamilton said. “If you look just a little deeper, you see how dependent he's becoming on support, moral and other types of support from China.”
China also sought to portray itself as a neutral arbiter of peace in the war and offered to help moderate diplomatic discussions. It has also taken a sympathetic stance toward Putin’s positions on the invasion and grievances with NATO while officially keeping a neutral stance on the war.
The joint statement issued by Russia and China framed the West as an obstacle to a peace agreement.
The White House was quick to respond to Beijing’s desire to help broker a deal.
If China wants to play a constructive role here in this conflict, then they ought to press Russia to pull its troops out of Ukraine and Ukrainian sovereign territory,” National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said. “They should urge President Putin to cease bombing cities, hospitals, and schools; to stop the war crimes and the atrocities; and end the war today. It could happen right now.”
An eventual end to the war could present new challenges for the struggling relationship between the U.S. and China, as they are both likely to play a prominent role in helping Ukraine rebuild its infrastructure and economy after a grueling and expensive war.
Tensions between Washington and China that are likely to linger when the eventual recovery process begins could create new problems that don’t exist yet.
“Zelenskyy is thinking long-term and Ukraine’s relations with China aren't all that bad,” Hamilton said. “The question that's important for us if we think about how to rebuild Ukraine is 'what role might China play?'”