Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping plan to meet next week in Uzbekistan, a Russian official said Wednesday, announcing a summit that could signal another step in warming ties between two powers that are increasingly facing off against the West.
The meeting at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization — a political, economic and security forum that China and Russia dominate — comes at delicate times for both leaders.
Putin is dealing with the economic and political fallout of his war in Ukraine, which has left Russia more isolated. Xi, meanwhile, is also facing a slowing economy as he seeks a third five-year term as Communist Party leader. While he’s expected to secure it, that would represent a break with precedent. Both leaders have seen their countries’ relations with the West deteriorate.
Russian Ambassador to China Andrei Denisov told reporters that the two would meet at the organization’s summit in the Uzbek city of Samarkand on Sept. 15 and 16. “We are actively preparing for it,” Denisov was quoted as saying by Russia’s state news agency Tass.
The visit to Uzbekistan, if it goes ahead, would be part of Xi’s first foreign trip in two and a half years. Xi has only left mainland China once — to make a one-day visit to the semi-autonomous city of Hong Kong — since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak in late 2019.
When asked about the trip, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning told a daily briefing Wednesday: “On your question, I have nothing to offer.”
Foreign policies increasingly aligned
Moscow and Beijing have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to oppose liberal democratic forces in Asia, Europe and beyond, making a stand for authoritarian rule with tight borders and little regard for free speech, minority rights or opposition politics.
The Russian military held sweeping military drills that began last week and ended Wednesday in the country’s east that involved forces from China, another show of increasingly close ties between the two.
Each leader may also be hoping the meeting will bolster his standing at home. For Putin, it’s an opportunity to show that he still has powerful allies. For Xi, it could be a chance to be seen as standing up to Western opposition to the Ukraine war and burnish his nationalist credentials at a time when relations with the US have grown increasingly tense over trade, technology, human rights issues and its threats to attack Taiwan.
Coming just ahead of China’s party congress, the overseas visits would also show Xi as confident of his position.
Putin and Xi last met in Beijing in February, weeks before the Kremlin sent troops into Ukraine. The two presidents oversaw the signing of an agreement pledging that relations between the sides would have “no limits.” It remains unclear whether Xi knew at the time of Russia’s plans to invade Ukraine.
While offering its tacit support for Russia’s campaign in Ukraine, China has sought to appear neutral and avoid possible repercussions from supporting the Russian economy amid international sanctions.
Even though Moscow and Beijing in the past rejected the possibility of forging a military alliance, Putin has said that such a prospect cannot be ruled out. He also noted that Russia has been sharing highly sensitive military technologies with China that helped significantly bolster its defense capability.
Putin dismisses Western sanctions
On Wednesday, Putin said Moscow will press on with its military action in Ukraine until reaching its goals, and mocked Western attempts to drive Russia into a corner with sanctions.
Putin told an annual economic forum in the far-eastern port city of Vladivostok that the main goal behind sending troops into Ukraine was protecting civilians in the east of that country after eight years of fighting.
“It wasn’t us who started the military action, we are trying to put an end to it,” Putin said, reaffirming his argument that he sent troops into Ukraine to protect Moscow-backed separatist regions there, which have fought Ukrainian forces in the conflict that erupted in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea.
“All our actions have been aimed at helping people living in the Donbas. It’s our duty and we will fulfill it until the end,” he said.
Putin charged that Russia has strengthened its sovereignty in the face of Western sanctions, which he said bordered on an aggression.
He scoffed at Western attempts to cap prices for Russian oil and gas, calling the idea “stupid” and saying that Russia will have enough customers in Asia. “The demand is so high on global markets that we won’t have any problem selling it,” he said.
He also rejected the EU’s argument that Russia was using energy as a weapon by suspending gas supplies via the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline to Germany.
Putin reaffirmed the Russian argument that Western sanctions have hampered the maintenance of the last turbine that remains in operation, forcing its shutdown.
He repeated that Moscow stands ready to “press the button” and start pumping gas “as early as tomorrow” through the Nord Stream 2, which has been put on hold by the German authorities.