July 19, 2024

With his army making advances in Ukraine and his political grip tightened at home after securing an unprecedented fifth term as president, Vladimir V. Putin of Russia arrived in Beijing on Thursday in search of another win: more support from his “dear friend,” Xi Jinping.

Mr. Putin, whose economy remains largely isolated because of Western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine, relies on Mr. Xi, China’s leader, for diplomatic cover and a financial lifeline, including huge purchases of Russian oil. But Mr. Putin will need more help to sustain his war machine, especially now as his military makes a push near Kharkiv, Ukraine’s second-largest city, before billions of dollars’ worth of arms arrives from the United States to shore up Ukraine’s depleted forces.

In Beijing, Mr. Putin sought to show that Moscow was deepening its ties with Beijing as a bulwark against Western attempts to contain their countries. “We are working in solidarity on the formulation of a more just and democratic multipolar world order,” he said.

He trumpeted China’s role as Russia’s number one trade partner, highlighted the use of the Russian ruble and the Chinese renminbi currency in the countries’ transactions, and said the sides would strengthen contacts between credit institutions and banks. He also said the leaders discussed working more closely in energy and nuclear power research, though made no mention of a proposed natural gas pipeline to China that Moscow would like to see built.

Mr. Xi is committed to his partnership with Mr. Putin, regarding Russia as a critical counterweight to their common rival, the United States. The two leaders share a vision of an alternative world order where autocratic countries like China and Russia can operate free of interference from Washington and its allies.

The pomp and pageantry that greeted Mr. Putin in Beijing made clear the importance of that relationship and their “no limits” strategic alignment. Mr. Xi welcomed Mr. Putin at the Great Hall of the People with a tightly choreographed ceremony featuring a 21-gun salute, a marching band, an honor guard and children jumping and waving in sync.

Mr. Xi hailed ties between their two countries as “a model for a new type of international relations and relations between neighboring major powers.” Key to the relationship, he said, was that the countries “always firmly support each other on issues involving each other’s core interests and major concerns.”

But the Chinese leader is under growing diplomatic and economic pressure from the West to curtail any support that aids Mr. Putin’s war on Ukraine. Failure to do so risks further alienating Europe, a key trading partner needed to help revive China’s beleaguered economy.

The United States has also accused Beijing of aiding the Kremlin’s war efforts by providing satellite intelligence, fighter jet parts, microchips and other dual-use equipment. While visiting Beijing last month, Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken also warned of sanctions against Chinese banks that assisted Russia’s war effort. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen warned of “significant consequences” if Chinese companies provided material support for Russia’s war in Ukraine.

In a statement he read to reporters in Beijing following the talks, Mr. Xi said that he and Mr. Putin discussed the war in Ukraine — which he referred to as a “crisis,” and repeated China’s position, including that the “reasonable security concerns of all parties,” meaning Mr. Putin’s opposition to NATO, should be respected. He said nothing about the warnings from the West.

For Mr. Putin, bolstering China’s support for him in the face of Western pressure is likely a top priority on this visit.

During his meeting with Mr. Xi, he called for greater economic cooperation, saying the two countries should prioritize energy, industry and agriculture, as well as advanced technologies, infrastructure construction and transportation. He lauded the two countries’ use of rubles and renminbi to settle trade to circumvent U.S. restrictions on using dollars.

“Despite some actions aimed at restraining our development — some actions on the part of third countries — trade turnover between Russia and China is increasing at a good pace,” Mr. Putin said, according to Russian state media.

“Our cooperation in world affairs today serves as one of the main stabilizing factors in the international arena,” he added.

The two leaders, who have met over 40 times, including virtually, depicted their relationship as close. In a statement he read to reporters, Mr. Putin sought to show that he was both not isolated and fully in charge. He said that he and Mr. Xi were in frequent contact, enabling the leaders to “discuss any, even the most difficult problems, and keep all pressing issues on the Russian-Chinese and international agenda under personal control.”

Mr. Putin traveled with a sizable delegation that reflected the deepening economic and military cooperation he hoped to cement with Mr. Xi. Included were Andrei R. Belousov, an economist who was named the new defense minister this week; Maksim Reshetnikov, the economy minister; and Sergey V. Lavrov, the foreign minister.

Mr. Belousov has experience working with China, having previously co-chaired the Intergovernmental Russian-Chinese Commission on Investment Cooperation, a group formed in 2014 to promote more trade between the two countries.

Others accompanying Mr. Putin included the heads of Rosatom, Russia’s nuclear power company, and Roscosmos, Russia’s space agency, as well as five deputy prime ministers. Among them was Alexander Novak, an official overseeing oil and gas, including the development of the Power of Siberia 2 natural gas pipeline. Mr. Putin has tried to strike a deal with Mr. Xi on the project, which would redirect Russian gas supplies that had gone to Europe toward China instead. The two leaders made no mention of the pipeline on Thursday, at least publicly.

Olivia Wang contributed research.

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