Putin admits China has ‘questions and concerns’ over Russia’s faltering invasion of Ukraine

Putin made the comments during his first in-person meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, days after Russia suffered a series of major military setbacks in Ukraine. Russian troops are retreating en masse, losing more territory in a week than they occupied in five months.

China has so far refused to outright condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while stepping up economic aid to its neighbors, boosting bilateral trade to record levels and benefiting Russian companies under Western sanctions.

“We highly appreciate the balanced stance of our Chinese friends on the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard,” Putin said in his opening remarks at the meeting. “Of course, at today’s meeting, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, even though we have talked about it before.

According to Chinese state media, Xi said China was willing to work with Russia to “give strong support to each other on issues concerning each other’s core interests.”

The two authoritarian leaders have become close partners in recent years, fueled by growing conflict with the West and strong personal ties.

China has acquiesced to Russia over Ukraine, while Moscow has backed Beijing and criticized Washington over U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August. Beijing responded to her visit with unprecedented military exercises around the self-governing democratic island it claims is its own territory.

At Thursday’s meeting, Putin also condemned the “provocation” of the United States in the Taiwan Strait and criticized what he called an attempt to “create a unipolar world.” Those attempts, he said, “have recently become ugly and absolutely unacceptable to most countries on the planet”.

The two met on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, which focuses on regional security and also includes India, Pakistan and four Central Asian countries.

According to the Russian Defense Ministry, the Russian and Chinese navies conducted joint patrols and exercises in the Pacific Ocean hours before the leaders’ meeting, in a symbolic display of strength and unity.

The meeting came at a potentially significant moment in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as Russian troops retreated en masse, losing more territory in a week than they captured in five months.

China has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, while boosting economic aid to its neighbors and boosting bilateral trade to record levels, benefiting Russian companies under Western sanctions.

“The foreign policy coordination of Moscow and Beijing plays a key role in ensuring global and regional stability,” Putin said in a statement released by the Kremlin on Thursday. “We together support the establishment of a world order based on fairness, democracy and multipolarity. International Rules and the central role of the United Nations.”

Putin is one of the few world leaders Xi Jinping has met face-to-face with Xi since early 2020. The Russian leader traveled to Beijing for the Winter Olympics in February and is seen as the most prominent world leader to join the event. Some Western countries have declared a diplomatic boycott, citing China’s human rights record.

It was at that meeting that the two leaders established their “unrestricted” partnership and released a 5,000-word document expressing their common position against “further expansion of NATO.”

For Xi, meanwhile, Thursday’s meeting was his first trip outside of China in more than two years, and just weeks before he sought a third term that would break the rules at a major political meeting in Beijing — — The move would cement his status as China’s most powerful leader in decades.

China has become increasingly inward-looking since the pandemic began. Xi’s trip to Central Asia is a return to the world stage and offers him an opportunity to show that despite rising tensions with the West, China has friends and partners and is ready to reaffirm its global influence.

On his first stop, Xi visited Kazakhstan, where in 2013 he unveiled his flagship Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project stretching from East Asia to Europe.

During a meeting with Kazakh President Tokayev on Wednesday, Xi Jinping said that China is willing to cooperate with Kazakhstan and “be the forerunner of the Belt and Road cooperation.”

Xi also told Tokayev that “China will always support Kazakhstan in safeguarding national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese state media reported.

The Chinese leader traveled to Uzbekistan on Wednesday night to meet Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. On Thursday, he also met the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan.

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