NOf course, the meeting of the Presidents of Russia and China, Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping, on Thursday was not the only thing worth noting at the summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Samarkand. First and foremost, according to the Uzbek hosts, Iran signed a memorandum that paved the way for the country to become a member.
Joining the organization, which includes China, Uzbekistan and Russia as well as India, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Tajikistan, is now just a formality, Putin later said in a conversation with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi. For his part, he vowed that Iran would “never” join Western sanctions against Russia, wanting to “strengthen and develop” ties.
Later, Russian state television showed (somewhat blurred) images of the opening meeting between Putin and Xi. Putin began by praising a “strategic, all-encompassing partnership” with Beijing, invoked a “multipolar world order” and, as in virtually every one of his appearances, condemned “attempts to create a monopolar world”. By this, Putin means the United States, castigated, in the spirit of Beijing, “provocations by the United States and its satellites” in the Taiwan Strait, stressing that they stand “firmly by the one China principle”.
China does not violate western Russia sanctions
But then he went on the defensive. “We appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends” on the “Ukrainian crisis,” Putin said. “We understand your questions and your concerns.” It sounded as if Beijing had communicated to Moscow in advance that Xi Jinping was not prepared to publicly justify Russia’s war of aggression in Ukraine. Xi preferred to present himself in Samarkand as a supposedly responsible statesman. “China is ready to work with Russia to demonstrate and lead the responsibilities of great powers to bring stability and positive energy to a world in chaos,” he said in front of the cameras at the beginning of the meeting. In a later announcement from Beijing about the meeting, which was broadcast by state television, the word “Ukraine” did not appear.
Xi’s confidante Li Zhanshu sounded very different during his visit to Moscow a few days ago. He assured Russia of China’s support on the “Ukraine question” and justified the Russian war of aggression in Ukraine as a “counterstrike” against American threats. Beijing may not have liked the fact that his statements were backed up by video recordings. China presented them completely differently.
The formula “pro-Russian neutrality” has become the norm for this Chinese maneuver. Beijing has never condemned the Russian war of aggression and blames America for it. Xi has not once spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on the phone since the war began. At the same time, as far as is known, China has not supported Russia with arms and is meticulous about not violating Western sanctions against Russia. It is increasingly buying up Russian raw materials at low prices, but has instructed its own state-owned companies to withdraw from some large-scale projects in Russia.
Tangible successes from the meeting between Xi and Putin, which Russia urgently needs in view of the economic sanctions imposed by the West, were not initially apparent from Moscow’s point of view. Last week, Putin personally announced an agreement on a new gas pipeline to China, “Power of Siberia 2”. Now a Russian member of the government in Samarkand expressed himself more cautiously: “final agreements” are expected for the “near future”.