Samarkand: Putin acknowledges China’s “concern” about Ukraine | International
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Russian President Vladimir Putin acknowledged for the first time on Thursday China’s “concerns” about the war in Ukraine. “We understand your questions and concerns,” he stated to his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, during the interview they held in Samarkand (Uzbekistan), their first face-to-face since Moscow decided to invade Ukraine at the end of February, turning the global geopolitical scene. “During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position,” Putin added. The words of the Russian president, which for the first time suggest Beijing’s concern about the conflict, have opened a small and cryptic fissure with the Asian giant, which until now kept a calculated distance from Moscow: without providing material or military support, but at the same time without condemning the invasion.
During the meeting, Putin also denounced Western attempts to create a “unipolar world” and praised Beijing’s “balanced position” on Ukraine. Xi, who did not mention this country during the public part of the meeting, replied that his country is willing to work with Russia “to assume its responsibility as great powers, play a leadership role and inject stability and positive energy in a busy world.” by chaos”, Reuters has collected.
The expected confrontation has taken place on the margins of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO), an organization born after the disintegration of the Soviet Union, focused on security issues, and of which they are partners, in addition to Russia. and China, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, India, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan, and Tajikistan. Putin, sitting opposite Xi, each at a curved table and accompanied by his entourage, has also called on his counterpart to strengthen this institution.
The Russian leader, for whom the European doors have been closed, has arrived at the meeting in the heart of the ancient Silk Road with his face already turned towards Asia, in search of support from Beijing at a critical moment in which his troops lose ground to the Ukrainian counterattack and suffocation grows in the face of international sanctions. For Xi, the trip itself is already an event: it is part of his first trip abroad since the start of the pandemic, and his reaction to the meeting could serve almost as a thermometer of his degree of adherence to the regime. Putin.
The last time the two leaders met, on February 4, the result of the interview was similar to the first jolt of an earthquake: Beijing and Moscow signed a declaration in which they questioned the current framework of relations between world powers and enshrined a “friendship” that “has no limits” or “prohibited areas of cooperation.” Just 20 days later, Russian tanks crossed the Ukrainian border. Since then, the Chinese government has tried to maintain a difficult position of neutrality leaning towards Russia, without referring to an “invasion” or a “war” with all its letters.
This position seemed to tilt a little more last week, when Li Zhanshu, one of the highest leaders of the pyramid of power in China – number three in the Permanent Committee of the Political Bureau, the highest body of the Party -, assured in a official visit to Moscow before members of the Duma that Beijing “understands and supports Russia on issues that represent its vital interests, in particular on the situation in Ukraine,” according to the transcript of the meeting made by the Duma. “We see how they have put Russia in an impossible situation. And in this case, Russia made an important decision and responded firmly.”
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But Putin’s words this Thursday open a new abyss and show that Beijing has doubts. Relations between two of the world’s greatest powers have become a source of growing angst in Washington and Brussels. The tension around Taiwan, the self-governing island that China considers an inalienable part of its territory and that the West sees as a potential conflict similar to Ukraine, has raised the level of agitation and anxiety to new heights, especially after the visit to Taipei. in August by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, which has provoked an enraged response from Beijing and has led the People’s Liberation Army into the Strait of Formosa.
The Taiwan crisis has also flown over the meeting between the leaders. Putin has wanted to align the position of both countries by condemning “the provocations of the United States and its satellites in the Strait”, and has assured that Moscow intends to adhere to the principle of “one China”, the complex linguistic and political balance that for Beijing it means that there is only one China, led by the communist government, and Taiwan is an inalienable part of that territory; while for other governments, such as the United States, it implies that Beijing is the legitimate government of China, but the status of Taiwan is not defined.
In Beijing, the “limitless” friendship proclaimed in February between Russia and China is interpreted, among other things, as a form of “dissuasion against the West, the United States and NATO”, explains Wang Yiwei, director of the Institute of International from Renmin University in Beijing. But in no case as an “alliance”. In the words of this analyst, a regular voice in the official press of the Asian giant: “China and Russia cannot be cornered. Otherwise, even if we are not allies, we can have more intense cooperation in many strategic areas, such as high technology.”
Despite the distance that has been evident in Samarkand, energy has become one of those fields of greater cooperation, after the forceful sanctioning response from the West. “With the effective loss of the European market, securing an eastern outlet for gas is increasingly important for Russia,” Michal Meidan, director of the China energy research program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, explains via email. In this way, Beijing could obtain concessions from Moscow in future supply agreements, adds Maidan, but it will also be “cautious” not to fall into excessive dependence on its neighbor.
The researcher defends that the war in Ukraine “has accelerated and increased the urgency” of the Kremlin to take the step towards the East. In a show of growing rapport, the two countries agreed last week to ditch the dollar and start paying in yuan and rubles for some of the gas Russia pumps into China from Siberia. The pact was sealed shortly after the Russian gas giant Gazprom decided to close the handle of the Nordstream tube, which carries fuel to Germany, citing technical reasons, in another episode of the tug-of-war between Moscow and Brussels.
During the summit in Samarkand, Xi and Putin also held a trilateral meeting with the president of Mongolia, Ukhnaa Khurelsukh, in which they discussed the possibility of opening new energy corridors from Russia to China through that country. Gazprom hopes to build a new gas pipeline capable of exporting up to 50 billion cubic meters of fuel annually by 2030. Khurelsukh has been willing to back these plans.
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