Why Is Vladimir Putin And Xi Jinping’s Meeting So Significant?

Vladimir Putin is hosting Xi Jinping in Moscow for three days this week, marking the Chinese president’s first trip to Russia since the Kremlin invaded Ukraine.

On Monday, the pair made their alliance clear, repeatedly calling each other “dear friend” and claiming they have a partnership with “no limits.”

The two countries haven’t always been prominent allies, but this conference suggests Beijing is stepping up its involvement in the war – and elevating its relationship with Russia.

As formal talks between the two start on Tuesday, here’s what you need to know.

Why does Putin need this meeting?

Xi is the most powerful ally Russia has left, having broken most other ties since launching the invasion of Ukraine.

There was an international arrest warrant issued last week for him by the International Criminal Courts (ICC).

It’s the first time the international court has issued a warrant against a leader of one of the five permanent members of the United Nations Security Council.

It also means Putin can’t travel to any of the 123 member countries which signs up to the ICC. Notably, China is not part of the ICC.

So having such a prominent world leader in his home country undoubtedly bolsters Putin’s position strategically.

China is also essential to keep the Russian economy ticking over, because it is one of the few countries still purchasing its energy exports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with China’s President Xi Jinping at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 20, 2023.


So, what’s in it for Xi?

While Beijing has repeatedly claimed that it is neutral in the war, it’s hard to deny that China is benefitting from the ongoing conflict.

Analysts have suggested that China was angling for quick win for Russia when it first invaded Ukraine.

This would have reinforced Beijing’s plans to annex the self-governing island of Taiwan (which China sees as part of its own country).

The relationship between the two is similar to that between Russia and Ukraine: a large country seeks to re-absorb a smaller neighbouring nation, to recreate land barriers last seen in the 20th century.

Although the war is now dragging on, China is still benefitting, just in a different way.

Officials can learn from Russia’s mistakes on the frontline and acquire a greater understanding of how the Western weaponry Ukraine is using works, in the hope of making their own new and improved versions.

This would help them prepare against any US backlash if China were to officially seize Taiwan.

China is also able to buy Russia’s oil and gas at a discounted rate after all of Ukraine’s allies slapped sanctions on Moscow and refused to buy any more of its energy exports.

Anything which prevents the West from getting access to Russia’s cheap energy supplies is an added bonus, too, especially as most of Europe has been plunged into an energy crisis since the war began.

The Russian invasion of Ukraine
The Russian invasion of Ukraine

PA Graphics via PA Graphics/Press Association Images

What do the two countries have in common?

Both nations are autocracies which oppose the democracy of the West and strength of US influence around the world.

It’s likely that Russia winning would offer a chance to reset the world order, delegitimise Nato and US.

They both want the northern border between their countries to be kept clear, too, meaning they can keep their military power focused Ukraine or Taiwan.

Their alliance empowers both sides to be more aggressive, too.

Could Xi help end the war?

China has been presented itself as the ultimate peacekeeper with its economic and trading power as markets of strength. It also claims it is one of the few countries in the world who hasn’t sold arms to either Ukraine or Russia.

But, it has been offering finance, tech, diplomatic cover to Moscow throughout the war – and just visiting Moscow is a sign of support for Putin.

Xi is allegedly going to speak to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskyy in the same week too – although he hasn’t otherwise spoken to him since war broke out.

Although China neither condemned nor condoned the invasion of Ukraine for the first year of the war, in February it presented a 12-point peace proposal, which included a ceasefire.

It also called for talks between Ukraine and Russia, for all countries’ territorial sovereignty to be honoured – even though this is one of the main sticking points between Kyiv and Moscow – and an end to economic sanctions.

China warned both sides to avoid using nuclear weapons as well, a known red line for the Asian nation.

It is thought that China has directly mentioned these worries to Putin before, as back in September, the Russian president revealed Xi had “questions and concerns” about the war when he was upping his nuclear threats.

Putin has said he was open to talking about resolving the conflict, while praising the paper. After all, the war has not been going swimmingly recently, with a string of military failures and a declining number of troops meaning support for the war is dropping in Russia.

China's President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister in Moscow on March 21, 2023.
China’s President Xi Jinping attends a meeting with Russian Prime Minister in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

DMITRY ASTAKHOV via Getty Images

Why is there doubt around China’s peace proposals?

These suggestions are unlikely to match Western plans to end the war – especially as China won’t want the conflict to end in a way that doesn’t give Russia the upper hand and weaken the West.

The US has also openly called for Beijing to press Putin into withdrawing troops from Ukraine.

White House spokesperson John Kirby said: “We are concerned that, instead, China will reiterate calls for a ceasefire that leaves Russian forces inside Ukraine sovereign territory.

“And any ceasefire that does not address the removal of Russian forces from Ukraine would effectively ratify Russia’s illegal conquests, enabling Russia to entrench its positions and then to restart the war at a more advantageous time.”

If the West rejects any such suggested ceasefire, China would be able to claim that it had tried to fix the situation.

Sky News’ Asia correspondent, Helen-Ann Smith, explained: “China will be able to claim that it tried and was frustrated by a warmongering West.

“It will suit its new narrative: that China is now the world’s best bet when it comes to diplomacy.”

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