Russian President Vladimir Putin has warmly welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping on a state visit to the Kremlin, sending a message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over its war in Ukraine have fallen short.
Xi’s trip – his first abroad since his re-election earlier this month – began on Monday, and showed off Beijing’s new diplomatic swagger.
The Chinese leader has been trying to portray Beijing as a potential peacemaker in Ukraine, even as he deepens economic ties with Moscow.
Putin and Xi greeted one another as “dear friend” when they met in the Kremlin, and Russian state news agencies later reported they held informal talks for nearly four and a half hours on Monday, with further official talks scheduled for Tuesday.
He confessed to being “slightly envious” of China’s “very effective system for developing the economy and strengthening the state”.
Putin congratulated Xi on his re-election and voiced hope for building even stronger ties.
Xi, for his part, praised Putin and predicted Russians would re-elect him next year.
“Under your strong leadership, Russia has made great strides in its prosperous development,” he said.
The two powers have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship”.
“We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” Putin said. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
Sergey Markov, director of the Institute of Political Studies in Moscow, told Al Jazeera that the main agenda of the meeting was setting up “infrastructure for an economic relationship”, and not the war in Ukraine.
“Russia and China have to build a global infrastructure, a new trade [relationship] without the influence of the sanctions imposed by the US and the EU,” he said.
“Both Xi and Putin don’t see [Ukrainian President Volodomyr] Zelenskyy as a leader of Ukraine, they believe he is a puppet of America,” Markov said, when asked about the two leaders’ thoughts on the war.
US questions ‘marriage of convenience’ relationship
Meanwhile, Washington criticised Xi’s visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit further crimes.
White House national security spokesman John Kirby said Xi should use his influence to press Putin to withdraw troops from Ukraine, and Washington was concerned that Beijing might instead call for a ceasefire that would let Russian troops stay.
Kirby said Xi should speak with Zelenskyy about the impact of the war on Ukraine.
“We encourage President Xi to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. The world and China’s neighbours will certainly be watching closely,” he told reporters on Monday.
Xi and Putin seem to be connected in “a bit of a marriage of convenience” rather than one of affection, Kirby said.
“These are two countries that have long chafed at US leadership around the world,” he said.
The two leaders will meet again for formal talks on Tuesday.