Russian President Vladimir Putin travels to China. The Kremlin leader has several goals during his visit. Meanwhile, his “dear friend” Xi Jinping is in a dilemma.

Putin and Xi. The presidents of Russia and China have a close personal relationship. They address each other as “dear friends” and have met in person or virtually more than forty times. Putin’s first trip abroad after being sworn in for a fifth term in office unsurprisingly takes him to China.

China is Russia’s economic and technological lifeline. China supplies many goods sanctioned by Western countries to Russia – especially semiconductors and dual-use technologies that can be used for both civilian and military purposes.

The trade volume between the two countries rose to $241 billion in 2023. China also became an important export market for Russia.

The country imports large quantities of Russian crude oil, which can no longer be sold in the West due to sanctions. China purchases Russian oil at cheap prices, which in turn is positive for Chinese economic development.

Chinese deliveries of dual-use goods are of great importance for the Russian defense industry. This could not produce many weapons, but also ammunition, to this extent without Chinese technological help. Without China, Russia could hardly continue the war in Ukraine.

Chinese support is leading to irritation and growing incomprehension in the West. What’s more, the US has already imposed sanctions on Chinese companies and banks that are important for Russian-Chinese trade.

This puts the Chinese leadership in a dilemma; A balance must be struck between the partnership with Russia and the preservation of the export markets of the EU and the USA, which are much more important than Russia.

Gerhard Mangott is a professor of political science with a special focus on international relations and security in the post-Soviet space. He teaches at the Institute for Political Science in Innsbruck and is a lecturer at the Diplomatic Academy in Vienna

The most important goal of Putin’s state visit is therefore to convince China to maintain economic and technological support for Russia. Without the Chinese lifeline, things would look bad for the Russian economy.

At the same time, Putin will also seek increased Chinese investment in Russia. Despite the political proximity of the two countries, these are limited. Doubts about the protection of legal and property security in Russia are the biggest obstacle.

Russia also receives political and diplomatic support from China. Officially, China sees itself as a neutral actor in Russia’s war against Ukraine.

At the same time, China shares the Russian justification for the invasion. NATO expansion and the lack of recognition of Russia’s legitimate security interests led to this war. China therefore sees the guilt of the war in the West.

The West is urging China to influence Russia to end the war in Ukraine. Putin’s visit therefore also serves to promote further diplomatic support for his country.

It is important that China is committed to a peace conference, but insists that Russia and Ukraine can take part in it on equal terms. From the Chinese perspective, the “peace conference” in Switzerland in June, pushed forward by Ukraine and the West, does not meet this expectation.

The visit to China should also make it clear that Russia is not isolated globally. In addition, for Russia, China is the key state for global coalitions such as the BRICS or the Shanghai Cooperation Organization.

Both countries are united by the effort to weaken Western dominance in international politics and instead build a multipolar order. Both states see the West in a relative loss of power and decline. Xi and Putin will once again invoke this fight against Western hegemony.

Nevertheless, Putin will have to acknowledge that the “borderless partnership” promised in 2022 does have limits. China will moderate its support for Russia.

On the one hand, China does not want to see Russia as a loser in Ukraine; On the other hand, China does not want to come under even greater Western sanctions pressure. Putin knows about this Chinese attitude; Putin and Xi will smile away this dilemma with their usual friendliness.