December 5, 2022

The ties between Putin and Xi were tested by Russia's invasion of Ukraine

The ties between Putin and Xi were tested by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine

They visited a hockey rink in Beijing and the panda facility at the Moscow Zoo. They shared blini with caviar in Russia, and similarly, the common type in China, jianping. They traded birthday cakes and traded toasts for shots of vodka, while refusing that neither of them dared overdo things.

For more than a decade, Xi Jinping from China and Vladimir Putin Russia has a respectful, perhaps warm, relationship that reflects deepening relationships Between two world powers who share a common cause against American military and economic power.

The Invasion of Ukraine It could all upend – or, in diplomatic isolation, form an alliance that is reshaping the global order in the twenty-first century.

After three days of strife, it appeared clear on Sunday that Putin’s expectations of swift subjugation of Ukraine were fading. Ukrainian resistance slowed or halted Russian forces, while Western countries sharply escalated their economic pressure on Russia, which seemed almost completely isolated.

Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine Mr. Xi was forced into what Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who was a diplomat in Beijing, described as an “impossible balancing act” between his personal friendship with the Russian leader and the potential for a backlash for China, if so seen as endorsement of an invasion that condemned him. most of the world.

On Friday, Mr. Xi spoke by phone with the man he called his “best friend” in 2019, but stopped short of endorsing the attack on Ukraine. He said all countries should “abandon the Cold War mentality,” and expressed support when Mr. Putin told him he would seek a negotiated solution to the war, according to the Chinese government’s summary of the invitation.

But there is no indication that Mister Xi did anything to stave off the invasion, if he knew it was coming. senior advisors US requests rejected to use China’s influence with Mr. Putin to deter an attack; Instead, China shared US intelligence with the Russians and accused the US of trying to sow discord, according to US officials.

For China, the costs of Mr. Putin’s adventure may be prohibitive.

“I don’t think it helps anyone,” said Wang Huyao, head of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based research organization that advises the government. “Conflict is not a solution, and China does not want to see things deteriorate.”

China has deep ties with Europe and the United States that it cannot afford to sever, despite the rising tensions in those relations. The Ukrainian invasion has shaken Chinese stock markets and threatens to derail the global economy in an important political year for Beijing that is expected to end in a period of mr. shi extension Al-Qaeda.

International outrage over Ukraine — and the diplomatic isolation Putin is expected to face — could serve as a warning of what Mr. Xi can expect if he uses force to subjugate Taiwan, the self-governing democracy that China claims. .

For his part, Mr. Putin appears to be counting on China’s support for Ukraine—whether explicit or not—in the face of punitive measures that the United States and others have already begun to impose.

China has already lifted some restrictions on Russian wheat imports, but has not yet decided whether it will comply with US and European sanctions aimed at restricting Russia’s access to capital.

“This would really be an acid test,” said John Colfer, a retired CIA officer who has studied China. It will appear whether China will really support Russia and provide economic support in violation of sanctions, or even face the sanctions themselves.

Just three weeks ago, on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met for the 38th time since Mr. Xi became China’s leader, and declared that the friendship between their two countries was “limitless”.

Outside of their inner circles, it is not known whether Mr. Putin disclosed his plans for Ukraine to Mr. Xi at the time. He did not, said Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying.

Now, Mr. Putin China is forced into an awkward position of interpretation How does the invasion not violate the principle of respect for national sovereignty, which is officially one of the pillars of China’s foreign policy?

“They should feel like they’ve played,” Mr. Colfer said of the Chinese leaders.

Chinese uncertainty over the issue was evident in the statements of officials such as Ms. Hua, who refused to describe the invasion as one and sought to shift blame for it to the United States. China may consider Taiwan an ungoverned province, but it has explicitly recognized Ukraine as a sovereign state, a country with which it has close economic ties.

Whatever the war ends, it has already underlined how important – and complex – the relationship between Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin.

It has been shaped by amazing biographical similarities, but also by differences that can test their “infinite” undertaking.

Both Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi were born just eight months apart – October 7, 1952 and June 15, 1953, respectively – and both were children of communist forces that grew out of the disastrous turmoil of war and revolution. They worshiped their forefathers, veterans of those struggles, and were inculcated in the Marxist-Leninist view of world affairs.

Mr. Xi’s father oversaw China’s cadre of Soviet experts and visited the Soviet Union in 1959, returning gifts to his son that were later destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, according to Joseph Turjian, an assistant professor at American University and author of the upcoming biography of Mr. Xi’s father, Xi Zhongxun.

Mr. Shi has a Remember in interviews He grew up reading Russian literature and was inspired by a minor character in What’s to Do? The 1863 novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who sleeps on a bed of nails.

“They have very similar views on the role of history in politics and how attacks on their history are seen as treacherous and dangerous,” Mr. Turorgian said of the two leaders.

Both ended up in government service, Mr. Putin as a KGB intelligence officer and Mr. Xi as a regional party official after the political rehabilitation of his father, who was imprisoned during the Mao era, accused of spying for the Soviets.

There is a major difference between the biographies of the two leaders, said Sergei Alekashenko, who was deputy head of the Russian Central Bank during Putin’s rise in the 1990s.

He noted that Putin served in the intelligence service when the Soviet Union was in ruthless decline in the 1970s and 1980s, while Mr. Xi joined the ranks of the government as China began to transform from a poor country into a global economic power.

“For Xi, the history of China while he is a mature man is a history of success,” said Mr. Alexsashenko. “He wants to move forward with this rebuilding for the future. For Putin, all the good is in the past.”

The experience most closely associated with them is the global political turmoil of 1989, beginning with the protests in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square that were crushed by China, and then the demonstrations that toppled the satellite states of the Soviet Union in Europe.

Mr. Xi, then an official in Fujian Province, warned in a party newspaper that democracy without restrictions means “no restrictions or a sense of responsibility.”

Mr. Putin was then a lieutenant colonel at the KGB post in Dresden, watching helplessly as protesters loot the local headquarters of the Stasi, the East German secret police. He was forced to withdraw into the Soviet Union, which collapsed after two years, creating new borders that he is now essentially trying to erase.

The two leaders often spoke of lessons learned from that period, reinforcing what they see as the need for a strong state hand to control popular sentiment.

at Speech In 2013, Mr. Xi discredited the last Soviet leader, Mikhail S.

In the end, no one was a real man, said Mister Shi.

Putin’s pivot toward China began under Mr. Xi’s predecessors. He settled a border dispute that erupted in a brief war between the Soviet Union and China in 1969, and relaxed visa restrictions that allowed trade to flourish across their borders.

When Mr. Xi took power a decade ago, the detente between the two countries accelerated into a deep relationship that overcame decades of division and suspicion. Trade has skyrocketed, reaching $146 billion last year. The two armies train together and conduct joint air and sea patrols along the Chinese coast.

“Although the bilateral relationship is not an alliance, this relationship in its proximity and effectiveness exceeds even that of an alliance,” Mr. Xi told his counterpart during virtual talks in December, according to Putin’s foreign policy adviser Yuri V. Ushakov. .

This relationship appears to have reached a new peak at the Olympics. After their meeting, the leaders issued a lengthy joint statement that raised concerns in Washington.

This was the first time that China had openly supported Russia’s demand to halt NATO expansion, although it had criticized previous NATO requests by individual countries, including Montenegro and North Macedonia.

The two leaders also vowed to resist US-led efforts to promote pluralistic democracy and said they would fight foreign influence under the guise of what they both call “color revolutions”, after popular uprisings in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia.

Yet Mr. Xi now appears uncomfortable with the way Putin has chosen to subjugate Ukraine. “I think the Chinese are going to strike a balance in how much they want to invest in Putin, and how much it will cost them strategically,” said Mr. Colfer, the former intelligence officer.

Anton TroyanovskyAnd the Chris Buckley And the Claire Vogue Contribute to reporting or research.