They visited a hockey rink in Beijing and a panda enclosure at the Moscow Zoo. They share layers of macaroons with caviar in Russia and, reciprocally, the popular Chinese variant, jianbing. They shared birthday cakes and congratulated each other with glasses of vodka, while insisting that neither of them dared to go overboard with these.
For more than a decade, China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir V. Putin have forged a respectful, perhaps even warm, relationship that reflects the deepening relationship between the two world powers. The world shares a common goal against America’s economic and military might.
The invasion of Ukraine could destroy all of that — or forge, in diplomatic isolation, an alliance that reshapes the world order in the 21st century.
Three days after the conflict, it seemed clear on Sunday that Mr. Putin’s expectations of quickly subjugating Ukraine were being formed. Ukraine’s resistance has slowed or stalled Russian forces, while Western nations have sharply escalated economic pressure on Russia, which appears to be almost completely isolated.
Mr. Putin’s attack on Ukraine forced Mr. Xi into what Kevin Rudd, a former Australian prime minister who was a diplomat in Beijing, called “an unbalanced act” between the fish’s close friendships. Multiply him with the Russian leader and the possibility of being blown away. China, if it is seen as supporting an invasion condemned by most of the world.
On Friday, Mr. Xi spoke by phone with the man he called his “close friend” in 2019, but stopped short when he disapproved of the Ukraine attack. He said all countries should “give up on the Cold War mentality,” and he expressed support when Putin told him he would seek a negotiated solution to the war, according to the government’s summary. Chinese government.
But there is no indication that Mr. Xi has done anything to ward off the invasion, had he known it was coming. His senior advisers rejected a US request to use China’s influence over Mr. Putin to thwart an attack; Instead, China shared American intelligence with the Russians and accused the US of trying to sow discord, according to US officials.
For China, the cost of Mr. Putin’s adventurism could be very high.
“I don’t think this is good for anyone,” said Wang Huiyao, president of the Center for China and Globalization, a Beijing-based think tank that advises the government. “Conflict is not a solution, and China doesn’t want to see things get worse.”
China has deep ties with Europe and the United States that it cannot cut, despite the growing tensions in those relationships. The Ukraine invasion has rattled China’s stock markets and threatens to rock the global economy in an important political year for Beijing, which is expected to end with an extension of the Mr. Xi.
International outrage over Ukraine – and the diplomatic isolation Mr. Putin is expected to face – could also serve as a warning of what Mr. Xi can expect if he uses force to hide himself. Taiwan, the self-governing democracy that China claims as its territory.
For his part, Putin appears to be counting on China’s support for Ukraine – whether explicitly or not – in the face of sanctions that the United States and other countries have begun to impose.
China has lifted some restrictions on Russian wheat imports, but it has yet to say whether it will comply with US and European sanctions that limit Russia’s access to capital. are not.
“It would really be an acid test,” said John Culver, a retired Central Intelligence Agency officer who has studied China. “It will prove whether China is really backing Russia and providing economic support when it violates sanctions or even faces sanctions.”
Just three weeks ago, on the eve of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, Putin and Xi met for the 38th time since Xi became China’s leader, declaring that the friendship between the two countries was “without limits”.
Outside of their inner circle, it is unknown whether Mr. Putin revealed his plans for Ukraine to Mr. Xi then. China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, suggested that he did not.
Now, Putin has forced China into the dilemma of explaining how the invasion does not violate the principle of respect for national sovereignty, which is officially a pillar of China’s foreign policy. China.
“They have to feel like they’ve been played,” Mr. Culver said of the Chinese leaders.
China’s uncertainty on the issue has been evident in statements by officials like Ms. Xu, who refused to call the invasion an invasion and sought to shift responsibility for it to USA. China may consider Taiwan a unique province, but it has clearly recognized Ukraine as a sovereign country, a country with close economic ties with each other.
However, with the war over, it underscored how important and complicated the relationship between Mr. Xi and Mr. Putin has become.
It has been shaped by striking biographical similarities, but also by differences that can test their “unlimited” commitment.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi were born just eight months apart – October 7, 1952 and June 15, 1953 respectively – and both are children of Communist powers that have risen from catastrophic convulsions. of war and revolution. They idolize their fathers, veterans of those conflicts, and are inculcated in a Marxist-Leninist view of world affairs.
Xi’s father oversaw China’s Soviet delegation and visited the Soviet Union in 1959, bringing back gifts for his son that were later destroyed during the Cultural Revolution, according to Joseph Torigian, a assistant professor at American University and the author of an upcoming biography. of Mr. Xi Zhongxun, his father.
Mr. Xi has recall in interviews that he grew up reading Russian literature and was inspired by a supporting character in “What To Do?” the 1863 novel by Nikolai Chernyshevsky, who slept in a bed of nails.
“They have very similar views on the role of history in politics and how attacks on their own history are seen as treacherous and dangerous,” Torigian said of the two leaders.
Both served in the government, Putin was a KGB intelligence officer and Xi was a regional party member active after his politically rehabilitated father, who had been imprisoned under Mao, was forced to accused of spying for the Soviet Union.
Sergey Alexsashenko, who served as vice chairman of Russia’s central bank during Putin’s rise to power in the 1990s, says there are key differences between the two leaders’ biographies.
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Mr. Putin noted that he served in the intelligence service as the Soviet Union was entering its inevitable decline in the 1970s and 1980s, while Mr. Xi joined the ranks of government as China’s transformation took place. The country’s transformation from an impoverished nation into a global economic power began.
“For Xi, the history of China when he was a grown man is a history of success,” said Alexsashenko. “He wants to move forward with this reconstruction for the future. For Putin, all good things are in the past.”
The experience most closely associated with them is the global political turmoil of 1989, which began with the Tiananmen Square protests in Beijing that China crushed, followed by demonstrations overthrow the satellite states of the Soviet Union in Europe.
Mr. Xi, then an official in Fujian province, warned in a party newspaper that unrestricted democracy meant “without constraints or a sense of responsibility”.
Mr. Putin, then a lieutenant colonel at the KGB’s Dresden outpost, watched helplessly as protesters ransacked the local headquarters of the Stasi secret police, East Germany. Britain was forced to retreat to the Soviet Union, which collapsed two years later, creating new borders that he was essentially trying to erase.
Both leaders spoke frequently about the lessons of that period, reinforcing what they saw as the need for a strong state hand to control public sentiment.
In a speech in 2013, Mr. Xi vilified the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail S. Gorbachev, for allowing the Soviet Union to fall under his watch, in what Mr. Putin called “a tragedy.” greatest geopolitical disaster of the 20th century”.
“In the end,” said Mr. Xi, “no one is a real man.”
Putin’s pivot to China began under Xi’s predecessors. He settled a border dispute that flared into a brief war between the Soviet Union and China in 1969, and he eased visa restrictions allowing trade to boom across their borders.
When Mr. Xi came to power a decade ago, close ties between the countries accelerated into an ever-deepening one that has overcome decades of division and mistrust. Trade has skyrocketed, reaching $146 billion last year. The two militaries train together and conduct joint air and naval patrols along China’s coast.
“Although the bilateral relationship is not an alliance, in terms of rigor and effectiveness, it even goes beyond an alliance,” Xi told his counterpart during the talks. virtual in December, according to Putin’s foreign policy adviser, Yuri V. Ushakov. .
That relationship seems to have reached a new peak at the Olympics. After their meeting, the leaders issued a lengthy joint statement that caused alarm in Washington.
This is the first time that China has explicitly confirmed Russia’s request for a halt to NATO expansion, although it has criticized previous NATO applications by individual countries, including Montenegro and North Macedonia.
The two leaders also vowed to oppose US-led efforts to promote pluralist democracy and said they would fight foreign influence under the guise of what they both called a “color revolution”. “, following popular uprisings in former Soviet republics such as Ukraine and Georgia.
Even so, Mr. Xi now appears uncomfortable with the way Mr. Putin has chosen to bring Ukraine to his heel. “I think the Chinese will balance out how much they want to invest in Putin, and how much they will have to pay strategically,” said Culver, a former intelligence officer.
Anton Troianovski, Chris Buckley and Claire Fu report or research contribution.
https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/27/world/asia/russia-china-putin-xi-jinping.html Invasion of Ukraine tests the bond that binds Putin and Xi