(Moscow) Russian President Vladimir Putin greeted his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Tuesday, under the ornate St. George’s Reception Hall at the Grand Kremlin Palace, with a warm handshake, before locking himself in with his host and officials from both countries for closed-door negotiations.
On Monday, the two leaders had already met for a first “informal” interview lasting more than four hours during which they displayed themselves as a counterweight to Westerners, whose relations with Beijing and Moscow are strained.
Ahead of his new meeting with Mr. Putin, Mr. Xi, who is on a three-day state visit, stressed on Tuesday that he considered “strategic” relations between China and Russia, “two great powers”, a ” priority “.
He also confided that he had invited the Russian head of state, against whom an arrest warrant was issued last week by the International Criminal Court, to visit him in China “when he can this year. “.
Coincidence of the calendar? While Mr. Xi shows his support for Moscow, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida traveled, mirror image, to Ukraine for a surprise visit described as “historic” by Kyiv, which sees it as a “sign of solidarity”.
As soon as he arrived, Mr. Kishida went to the martyr town of Boutcha, near the capital, where Russian soldiers are accused of committing atrocities while occupying it.
The Japanese leader, who was the only head of state or government of a G7 member state not yet to have traveled to Kyiv since the start of the conflict in February 2022, is also due to meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
The situation in Ukraine, precisely, will be at the heart of the talks between MM. Xi and Putin, who took advantage of their “ informal ” discussions on Monday to stage their understanding, for example by giving each other “ dear friend”.
During this first meeting, the master of the Kremlin said he was ready to discuss a Chinese initiative aimed at stopping this conflict, on the basis of a document published last month by Beijing and calling in particular for negotiations of peace.
But if China poses as an intermediary in Ukraine, the West judges that it supports Moscow too much to be credible. Washington even accuses the Chinese authorities of considering delivering weapons to Russia, which they deny.
Others in the West believe that Beijing could take inspiration from the Russian offensive in Ukraine to take control of Taiwan.
Again on Monday, the head of American diplomacy, Antony Blinken, said that the world should “not be fooled by any tactical decision by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the conflict (in Ukraine) on his own terms.”
Mr. Blinken pointed out that Mr. Xi had traveled to Russia just three days after the ICC’s arrest warrant was issued for Mr. Putin, which he said suggests that China does not feel the need to “ hold the (Russian) president responsible for the atrocities inflicted on Ukraine ”.
For its part, Ukraine, cautious about Chinese intentions, urged Mr. Xi on Monday to “use his influence on Moscow to put an end to the war of aggression”.
As for the imprisoned former Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, he considered, in an interview with AFP, that Ukraine’s victory against Russia was “inevitable” and that it would transform “the region”.
Questioned by AFP, the French expert Antoine Bondaz, a specialist in Chinese diplomacy, thinks that Beijing is seeking to promote in the Ukrainian file an “image as a factor of stability […] particularly with non-Western countries”, while by trying to “delegitimize democratic regimes”.
In recent years, China and Russia have indeed posed as geopolitical counterweights to the power of the United States and its allies.
But in addition to strategic considerations, economic issues will be at the heart of discussions on Tuesday between MM. Putin and Xi.
The visit of the Chinese president to Russia comes at a time when the latter has massively reoriented its economy towards China, in the face of the heavy Western sanctions of which it is the target.
As a symbol of this growing economic integration, the Russian giant Gazprom announced on Tuesday that it had delivered a “record” quantity of gas the day before via the cross-border “Siberian Force” gas pipeline.
According to the Kremlin, MM. Xi and Putin are due to sign several documents on Tuesday, including a joint statement on deepening economic relations between their two countries by 2030.