Putin in China seeking support for his war in Ukraine

(Beijing) President Vladimir Putin arrives in China on Thursday to meet his counterpart and “dear friend” Xi Jinping, whom he will try to convince to provide greater support for the Russian war effort in Ukraine.

The two-day visit marks Mr. Putin’s first foreign trip since his re-election in March and his second to China in just over six months.

This Asian giant is a crucial economic lifeline for Russia, plagued by heavy Western sanctions taken to punish it for its military offensive in Ukraine.

Having just returned from a tour of France, Serbia and Hungary, Xi Jinping defended the right to maintain normal economic ties with his Russian neighbor. China benefits in particular from cheap Russian energy imports.

The two countries celebrated in early 2022, just before the outbreak of the invasion of Ukraine, a bilateral partnership described as “limitless”.

“This is Putin’s first trip after his inauguration and is therefore intended to show that Sino-Russian relations are moving up another level,” says independent Russian analyst Konstantin Kalachev.

“Without forgetting the visibly sincere personal friendship between the two leaders. »

But these close ties are viewed with growing suspicion among Westerners. The United States is thus threatening to sanction foreign companies, in particular banks, which work with Russia.

The Kremlin said this week that the two presidents would discuss “key areas of development of Russian-Chinese cooperation, while also exchanging their views on international and regional issues.”

Red line

In an interview with the official Xinhua news agency published on Wednesday, Vladimir Putin welcomed Beijing’s “sincere desire” to work to resolve the Ukrainian crisis.

China regularly calls for respect for the territorial integrity of all countries (including Ukraine) but also urges consideration of Russia’s security concerns.

Washington has set a red line for Beijing –– not directly supplying weapons to Russia – and says it has to date not had proof to the contrary.

But the United States believes that Chinese economic support still allows Russia to strengthen its production of missiles, drones and tanks.

Sino-Russian trade has exploded since the invasion of Ukraine and will reach 240 billion dollars (222 billion euros) in 2023, according to Chinese customs.

But Chinese exports to neighboring Russia were significantly lower in March and April 2024 than in the January-February period, after threats from Washington to sanction financial institutions supporting the Russian war effort.

Because a decree signed in December by American President Joe Biden now authorizes secondary sanctions against foreign banks linked to the Russian war machine.

In short: the American Treasury can exclude them from the global financial system, based on the dollar.

“Considerable difficulty”

China is seeking to renew its ties with the United States anyway and could therefore be reluctant to want to strengthen its cooperation with Russia, despite the latter’s expectations, according to analysts.

Several Chinese banks have therefore interrupted or reduced their transactions with their Russian clients, according to eight nationals of the two countries involved in bilateral trade.

Banks “start from the principle that it is better to be prudent than to do something that you might regret later,” Alexander Gabuyev, director of the Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, told AFP.

“Determining whether payments are linked to the Russian military-industrial complex […] represents a considerable difficulty for Chinese companies, including banks.

During Vladimir Putin’s visit, however, experts expect Moscow and Beijing to celebrate their partnership and sign several trade agreements.

The two leaders are also expected to issue a joint statement and attend an evening marking 75 years of diplomatic relations between their countries, according to the Kremlin.

Vladimir Putin is also due to meet Prime Minister Li Qiang then go to Harbin (north-east) on Friday to visit a fair dedicated to trade and investments.

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