Putin and China’s top diplomat pledge to strengthen ties ahead of Ukraine war anniversary

Feb 23, 2023, 9:13 AM | Updated: 1:05 pm

China's Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi attends a meeting ...

China's Director of the Office of the Central Foreign Affairs Commission Wang Yi attends a meeting with Russia's Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, Russia February 22, 2023. (Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS)

(Alexander Nemenov/Pool via REUTERS)

(CNN) — Russian President Vladimir Putin said relations between his country and China are “reaching new milestones” as Beijing’s top diplomat, Wang Yi, wrapped up a visit to Moscow on Wednesday.

“Russian-Chinese relations are developing as we planned in previous years. Everything is moving forward and developing,” Putin told reporters as he sat beside Wang. “Cooperation in the international arena between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China, as we have repeatedly said, is very important for stabilizing the international situation.”

Wang added that the two countries “often face crisis and chaos, but there are always opportunities in a crisis.”

“This requires us to identify changes more voluntarily and respond to the changes more actively to further strengthen our comprehensive strategic partnership,” Wang said.

Wang’s high-profile visit, just days before the anniversary of the Kremlin’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, is widely believed to be a precursor to a meeting between Putin and Chinese leader Xi Jinping. In December 2022, Putin and Xi held a virtual meeting in which the Russian leader described relations between the two nations as “the best in history,” saying they could “withstand all tests,” and invited Xi to visit Moscow in the spring of 2023.

On Tuesday, the Wall Street Journal reported the two leaders would meet in “the coming months,” citing people familiar with the plan. Arrangements for the trip are at an “early stage” and the timing has not been finalized, the WSJ reported, adding that the trip could be in April or early May.

Wang arrived in Moscow just days after US officials went public with concerns about how China’s continuing partnership with Russia could have an impact on the war in Ukraine — and hours after Putin made a major speech on the conflict, in which he announced plans to suspend Russia’s involvement in its last remaining nuclear arms treaty with the US.

The Chinese diplomat held several high-profile meetings in the Russian capital during his visit, speaking with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov earlier Wednesday and Nikolai Patrushev, the head of Russia’s Security Council and one of Putin’s closest allies, on Tuesday.

Wang told Lavrov he expects the two countries to reach a “new consensus” on advancing bilateral relations.

“Today I am willing to further exchange views with you, my old friend, on the advancement of our mutual relationship, and I think we will definitely reach new consensus,” Wang told Lavrov on Wednesday.

“No matter how the international situation changes, China has been and remains willing to maintain the positive trend with Russia in building a new type of cooperative relationship between major powers.”

Wang, who was congratulated by Lavrov for his recent promotion as the top foreign policy adviser for Chinese leader Xi Jinping, said he would endeavor to “strengthen and deepen the Sino-Russian friendship” no matter what.

Wang said under the leadership of Xi and Putin, the two countries had maintained their strategic determination, and — in an apparent dig at the United States — “resolutely oppose any unilateral or bullying behavior, and unswervingly safeguard their respective sovereignty, security and development interests.”

On Tuesday, Wang told Patrushev that Beijing’s ties with Moscow are “solid as a rock.”

“Sino-Russian relations are mature and solid as a rock, and will withstand the test of the changing international situation,” Wang was quoted as saying by Russian state-owned news agency Sputnik.

“We are ready, together with the Russian side, in accordance with top-level agreements, to resolutely defend national interests and dignity, and promote mutually beneficial cooperation in all areas,” Wang said.

Patrushev told Wang that China and Russia should stick together in face of growing pressure from the West, citing what he falsely described as “the bloody events unleashed by the West in Ukraine” as an example.

Russia has repeatedly accused the West of instigating the war in Ukraine, while attempting to deny responsibility for the reported deaths of tens of thousands of people — and Beijing has parroted the messaging, laying the blame for Moscow’s unprovoked invasion on the United States and its NATO allies.

“In the context of the campaign by the collective West to contain Russia and China, the further deepening of Russian-Chinese coordination and interaction in the international arena carries particular importance,” Patrushev was quoted as saying by Sputnik.

Patrushev also said that Russia and China should seek to create a new, “more just” world order, one that challenges the unipolar hegemony of the collective West, according to Sputnik.

A readout from China’s Foreign Ministry said the two officials agreed to oppose “the Cold War mentality, bloc confrontation and ideological opposition” — a thinly veiled criticism of the US — and to make more efforts to “improve global governance,” in an apparent reference to Beijing and Moscow’s ambitions to reshape the global order in their favor.

Wang and Patrushev also “exchanged their opinions” on the issue of Ukraine, the statement added, without offering details.

Concerns about China role
Wang’s trip comes after US President Joe Biden made a surprise visit to Ukraine on Monday in a show of support for the embattled country, which Washington and its European allies have rallied together to back over the past year through both military and humanitarian aid, and economic sanctions against Russia.

The Chinese leadership has claimed impartiality in the conflict but refused to condemn Russia’s invasion, instead expanding trade ties and continuing large-scale joint military exercises, including this week.

But during engagements in European cities in recent days, Wang attempted to present China as a proponent of peace and negotiation, saying at the Munich Security Conference (MSC) on Saturday that Beijing would release its position on a “political settlement” of the crisis.

Those remarks were met with suspicion from many Western leaders who are closely watching for any support China lends to its northern neighbor, especially amid concerns that Beijing is considering the provision of lethal military aid to Russia.

On Tuesday, China’s Foreign Minister Qin Gang reiterated Beijing’s messaging on Ukraine at a security forum in the Chinese capital. China was “deeply concerned” the conflict would spiral “out of control,” and would continue to urge peace talks and provide “Chinese wisdom” to bring about a political settlement, he said.

“At the same time, we urge relevant countries to immediately stop adding fuel to the fire, stop shifting blame to China, and stop hyping up the discourse of Ukraine today, Taiwan tomorrow,” he said, in an apparent reference to the US and its allies.

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Putin and China’s top diplomat pledge to strengthen ties ahead of Ukraine war anniversary