March 24, 2023 Special Dispatch No. 10538

Xi's Visit Heartens Russia, But Questions Remain

March 24, 2023
Russia, China | Special Dispatch No. 10538

Chinese President Xi Jin Ping's recently concluded three-day visit to Russia heartened the Russian leadership. The duration of the visit, along with the fact that Russia was Xi's first foreign trip after being elected for a third term, had symbolic value, as did Xi's endorsement of Vladimir Putin's prospective presidential reelection bid in 2024. Although Putin did announce that China's February 2023 peace plan could form a basis for negotiations, Xi's visit did not really center on the issue of Ukraine, in spite of the widespread expectations to the contrary. The Chinese peace plan favors Russia in that it pushes for lifting of sanctions prior to negotiations over territory, and Putin has effectively ruled out withdrawal from territories that Russia has annexed to date.

Economy is the area where Putin could claim success. First, the agreements reached would help the leadership convince Russia's citizens that the country was not economically isolated. Putin's pledges to develop the Far East and shift Russia's trade corridors to replace its ruptured relations with the West seem to be more realizable now that they had Chinese backing. Likewise, the efforts to dethrone the dollar appeared to have gained momentum.

Perhaps the most interesting issue for the Russian media was whether Russia and China were now allies. Nowhere in the official announcements did the term "ally" appear. This did not prevent Russian experts from arguing that even if Russia and China were not bound by a formal alliance, the objective conditions of a new global bipolarity and a shared rejection by the West were effectively turning the two countries into allies with a mission of modifying the current Western dominated international system and building a more equitable international system. One writer even compared the Xi-Putin summit to the 1943 Tehran conference where Roosevelt, Stalin, Churchill, and Chiang Kai-shek conferred about the postwar world order. Another columnist, on the other hand, compared Russia's status in the alliance to Belarus' status in its alliance with Russia.

MEMRI's report on Xi's visit follows below:

Vladimir Putin and Xi Jin Ping (Source:

Ukraine: Russian Deference To Chinese Guest But With Caveats

Xi claimed in Moscow that the Chinese proposals demonstrated his country's sense of international responsibility and high-mindedness: "In February, China released its position on the political settlement of the Ukraine crisis. Regarding the Ukraine settlement, I would like to emphasize that we have always upheld our unwavering commitment to the goals and principles of the UN Charter, adopting an objective and unbiased position. We have been proactive in promoting reconciliation and the resumption of talks. In our approach, we proceed from the essence of the matter in question and only seek the truth. We always support peace and dialogue, and firmly stand on the right side of history."[1]

Putin stated that Russia was sympathetic to the Chinese plan but claimed that the West was insistent on thwarting it: "Of course, we did not ignore developments around Ukraine. We believe that many of the provisions of the peace plan put forward by China are consonant with Russian approaches and can be taken as the basis for a peaceful settlement when the West and Kiev are ready for it. However, so far, we have not seen such readiness on their part. Moreover, I was just informed that while the Chinese President and I were discussing the possibility of implementing the Chinese peace plan – and the Chinese President devoted considerable attention to his peace initiatives during our one-on-one conversation yesterday – the UK deputy defense minister announced that the United Kingdom would not only supply tanks to Ukraine, but also depleted uranium shells."[2]

Political scientist and columnist Georgy Bovt expected Ukraine's Volodomyr Zelensky to play a similar game with the Chinese proposals if and when Xi has his conversation with him. "Zelensky is unlikely to reject Beijing's peace initiatives, realizing that in the future, when sooner or later it does come to a peace settlement, China will be among the countries that can act as guarantor of that very peace. Moscow is also aware of it, as well as of the fact that China today is to a large extent the guarantor of the Russian economy's survival in the face of sanctions."[3]

Yuri Ushakov, a senior aide to Putin, claimed that the Chinese proposal had been discussed during the informal talks between the two leaders and had proven "useful for both parties." However, the sharp differences between Russia and the West prevented immediate progress. According to Ushakov, "In the West [the Chinese settlement plan on Ukraine] causes irritation, but it is respected in Moscow."[4]

Russian scholars pointed out that the things were deeper than respect and irritation. St Petersburg University professor Yana Leksyutina noted that Xi, in his speeches and in an article in the official Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper, emphasizes China's fundamental refusal to supply weapons to either Russia or Ukraine, thus preserving the role of a facilitator between the parties to the conflict. However, as follows from Xi's article, the negotiations a year ago were interrupted not on Russia's initiative, and their resumption is possible only if Ukraine accepts the current geopolitical realities (i.e., the fact that Crimea and new territories become part of Russia). Leksyutina believes that this fact determines Moscow's pessimism about the possibility of resolving the Ukrainian crisis through negotiations.

Vasily Kashin, Director of the Center for Comprehensive European and International Studies at the Higher School of Economics, agrees. The initiative could prove beneficial for Russia at a certain point, since it involves a ceasefire and the lifting of sanctions, followed by negotiations to reach a political agreement. At the same time, based on the requirements of the Russian Constitution, such negotiations will have no chance of success without Ukraine accepting and recognizing Russian control over the newly annexed regions and Crimea. Hence, the negotiations are expected to take a very long time.[5]

Economic Agreements – The Tangible Success Of The Visit

Although negotiating with a far weaker hand than his guest, Putin and most Russian commentators were upbeat about the economic results of the visit.

Perhaps the most rapturous description of the outcome was provided by Kirill Babayev, Director of the Russian Academy of Sciences' Institute of China and Modern Asia. For Babayev, the agreement recalled the days of the British Empire and the "Cape to Cairo" railroad:

"A modern high-speed transcontinental route from the Baltic to the Pacific Ocean would become the embodiment of both peoples' dream, a decisive step towards the creation of a Greater Eurasian space, the idea of which was advanced by the President of Russia. After all, as we know, it was the railway that once united the West and East of the United States, and subsequently played a crucial role in the formation of a single space of the British Empire in Africa – from Cairo to Cape Town. Today, only Russia and China have the historic opportunity to bring such a project to life."

The visit also heralded the emergence of a new competitive economic power center that would challenge Western dominance:

"The visit is also important from the point of view of another long-term result. It sends a signal to all states concerned about the economic, financial, military pressure of the United States that a reliable and powerful center of power has appeared in the world that will construct a new infrastructure, both in the field of economic cooperation, trade and settlements, and in the field of international politics.

"Today, this center of power is distinguished, on the one hand, by the equality of participants, and on the other hand, by the desire for universal, joint, inclusive security for all – everything that neither Washington nor its allies can offer. The attractiveness of this model of Russia and China can be judged by the desire of numerous powers from all continents to join the international platforms of the SCO and BRICS."

For Babayev, the fruition of these plans иs guaranteed by the stability of the two leaders' tenure in office.

"The Chinese leader's trip is coming to an end, but this is just the beginning for new bilateral projects. President Xi has at least five years left, and one can count on the fact that all agreements, even long-term ones, will be fulfilled. The words of the Chinese guest also testify to the fact that good relations between the leaders of the two countries will continue to contribute to this. He expressed confidence that in 2024 the Russians will support Vladimir Putin."[6]

Kirill Babayev (Source:

During the visit, Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed an agreement on economic cooperation between the two states with duration until 2030.

Putin noted the importance of the agreements reached and the prospects that are opening up for Russia and China in the spheres of tourism, education, trade, energy, and the development of territories in the [Russian] Far East. The latter is a task that the financially strapped Russian government would find difficult to perform on its own.

President Xi stated: "President Putin and I agreed to step up our comprehensive planning efforts at the top level, increase trade in energy, resources and electronics, make our respective value chains more resilient, while expanding cooperation in IT, the digital economy, agriculture, and trade in services. We agreed to develop conventional trade sectors alongside emerging industries in a complementary and synchronized manner, and to continue providing for uninterrupted cross-border logistics flows and shipments.

"We unanimously noted the importance of strengthening the foundations of cultural and humanitarian exchanges, building up twin relationships between provinces and regions, intensifying contacts between sister cities, effectively conducting cross-years of cooperation in physical education and sports, and enabling our people to travel between our two countries with greater ease."[7]

Putin was more expansive on the economic results of the visit:

"Let me note in this context that in general Russia and China intend to actively develop international transport and logistics corridors. The idea is to make greater use of the potential of the Trans-Siberian and Baikal-Amur railways, the Northern Sea Route, and multi-lane trans-Asian highways, to guarantee their stable operation together, and to make the transportation of goods and passengers more efficient.

"Of course, trade and economic cooperation remain a priority for us, considering that China has solidly established itself as the leading foreign trade partner for our country. Our two countries have been effective in working together to expand mutual trade and maintain this momentum. Last year, trade increased by 30 percent to set a new record of $185 billion. This year, trade may well exceed $200 billion, which would be a symbolic threshold.

"The Joint Statement concerning the plan for expansion of key economic cooperation areas by 2030, sets the task of increasing the volume of trade in goods and services multiple times over, deepening ties in eight strategic areas, primarily finance, industrial manufacturing and technology, as well as transport and logistics. The governments of Russia and China, the business circles of our two countries should start without delay the practical study of the provisions of the Statement and agree on a set of measures for their implementation, full of specific mutually beneficial initiatives and projects."

Putin expressed particular satisfaction that this trade would be increasingly conducted in local currencies thus further insulating the countries from Western financial sanctions:

"Expanding payments between our countries in national currencies is a serious incentive for promoting trade and investment cooperation. As of the end of the first three quarters of 2022, the share of the ruble and yuan in mutual commercial transactions reached 65 percent and continues to grow, which allows us to protect mutual trade from the influence of third countries and negative trends on global currency markets."[8]

Accompanying this bullish talk about the impact of closer trade relations was an undercurrent of concern by the experts: "However, the intensification of cooperation carries a risk that the weaker Russian economy will become dependent on the [stronger] Chinese economy. Russia is destined to be a junior partner in the Chinese gambit," is how a former diplomat from one of the post-Soviet countries described the situation in an interview with

"Russia, undoubtedly, is aware of the risks, but the Kremlin doesn't have much time to maneuver given the background of the conflict situation. This is understood too well in Beijing," the diplomat added.[9]

Allies All But In Name?

Putin's comparison of the fighting in Ukraine to Russia in World War II is questionable to put it mildly but there is one definite similarity – Russia needs a strong ally that can alleviate the economic and military pressure. Russia has been waiting for China to get off the fence and extend its support economically and in terms of military assistance. The question is whether the Xi visit brought Russia closer to its objective.

Xi showed deference to Russia and Putin, stating:

"Immediately after the successful conclusion of the 20th Congress of the CPC, following the recent session of the Chinese Parliament, and after my successful re-election as Secretary General of the CPC and President of the People's Republic of China, you immediately sent me congratulatory messages. Once again, I express my deep gratitude to you.

"I am aware that a presidential election will take place in your country next year. Thanks to your strong leadership, Russia has made significant progress in recent years in achieving results and expanding prosperity. I am sure that the Russian people will strongly support you in your good works."[10]

Despite the homage to Putin, some Russian observers did not believe that China had sharply changed its policy. Prior to the visit, Putin and Xi published articles in each other's official newspapers. Sergei Strokan, a foreign affairs columnist for Russian daily Kommersant, claimed that "The Chinese leader's article, published on the front page of the Russian government's official newspaper [Rossiyskaya Gazeta], is characterized by a special oriental multiplicity of meanings that allows everyone to read and interpret it in their own way.

"In one paragraph, he describes Russia and China as 'major neighbors, strategic partners in comprehensive interaction,' and in another as, 'fellow travelers in development and renaissance, which will make a great contribution to the progress of human civilization.' Wherein, the word "allies," which in international practice defines the closest proximity of states, is never used in the article, not even in a figurative sense."[11]

Bovt noticed an anomaly even with the exchange of articles. "On the eve of the visit, the Chinese and Russian leaders published articles respectively in the main newspapers of the two countries. Xi Jinping was published in Rossiyskaya Gazeta, and Vladimir Putin – in the main Chinese Communist newspaper, Renmin Jibao [People's Daily].

"The Chinese leader's article was published on the front page under a large portrait of Xi Jinping. The article by the Russian President was placed on the 3rd page and was not highlighted as the newspaper's main item, it was not followed by a portrait of Putin.

"Another discordant note was that Putin didn't arrive personally to Vnukovo Airport to meet the high Chinese guest, it was Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, who is in charge of tourism, sports, and culture, who greeted Xi Jinping. Putin was at the time holding a collegium of the Interior Ministry."[12]

Kommersant's Maxim Yusin bluntly stated that Russia was an ally of China to the same degree that Belarus was an ally of Russia.

"The visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Moscow can be called symbolic and demonstrative at the same time. Symbolic, as it was the first foreign trip of the Chinese leader after he was triumphantly re-elected as the country's leader for a new, third term. Demonstrative, as it took place, despite all the hints and warnings of Western leaders who dissuaded Beijing from any support (direct or indirect) for the Russian president until the moment he withdraws troops from Ukraine.

"Comrade Xi remained deaf to all these warnings. Moreover, the visit turned out to be unusually long – three whole days. If desired, the Chinese authorities could have limited themselves to one day, dress up the trip as a routine work visit, without pomposity, solemnity, and state protocol. But this was not done deliberately. Thus, Xi Jinping sends a signal to Western allies, and primarily the United States: in the new geopolitical situation, Beijing will behave as it sees fit, without regard to Washington.

"Moreover, at every opportunity America reminds us that its main, strategic, existential adversary is not Russia at all, but China. Well, what does it want from the PRC authorities in this case? They, too, are forced to start from this reality, not harboring illusions about 'peaceful coexistence' and 'healthy competition.' Healthy competition doesn't work. And it turns out to be a geopolitical battle to the death. And in this battle, it is vital for Beijing to have Russia with its limitless resources in its camp. And not only limitless, but also cheap. Having lost Western markets, Moscow is forced to sell both gas and oil to the same Beijing at preferential, sometimes super-preferential prices. There is often no alternative.

"Russia is increasingly tied to its most powerful partner in Asia. And in many cases, it actually becomes its raw material appendage, and in political terms – a junior partner. Of course, Chinese politicians and diplomats will have enough intelligence, subtlety, and tact not to emphasize this once again. On the contrary, to show signs of attention and respect to a proud partner, as is the case with the current three-day visit.

"But this does not change the essence of the matter. Gradually, but steadily, Moscow is becoming for Beijing approximately what Belarus of Alexander Lukashenko has become for it [Russia] from a certain moment. For a country accustomed to consider itself a great power, this is not the most pleasant statement. But if we compare the economic indicators of Beijing and Moscow, if we recall the international semi-isolation of the Kremlin, there is nothing alas surprising in this."[13]

Sergei Strokan, Yusin's colleague at Kommersant, claimed that even a junior partnership was an embryonic alliance and the close economic ties would spill over into political ties. Despite Russia and China's advocacy of multipolar world as a riposte to U.S. hegemonism, multipolarity was bunk and world politics had reverted to a bipolar system like the one in place during the original Cold War.

"The fact is that there can be no multipolar world at all. It exists only in speeches and articles, official statements and press releases. In reality, everything is different. The bipolar world of the Cold War era was first replaced by a unipolar world that began to take shape after the dissolution of the Warsaw Pact and the Council for Mutual Economic Assistance [CMEA – the Council on Mutual Economic Assistance, the Communist bloc's answer to European Economic Community], the fall of the Berlin Wall, and the collapse of the USSR.

"And then the world came to a new bipolarity. Today, one pole is the United States and those countries that we usually call the 'collective West.' The other – Russia and China.

"Russia has been proclaimed in the West as an 'immediate threat,' China as a 'strategic challenge.' The 'immediate threat' and the 'strategic challenge,' which found themselves in the same geopolitical boat under Western sanctions (they fell on Russia immediately, and are creeping gradually upon China), are forced, in a toxic external environment for them, to force rapprochement [between them] in order to resist the collective West.

"Why is this not a CMEA  in a new package? And is it worth talking about the 'colonization' of Russia by China? In the economic sense, China is a senior partner for Russia. But this is not colonization, but forced interdependence.

"'Relations between Russia and China are not a military-political alliance like those formed during the Cold War,' Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping said in a statement.

"And in this, the two leaders, in general, did not prevaricate – they really focus on trade and economic cooperation, returning at a new stage in history to the idea of the CMEA, which was looking for ways of economic integration of the Eastern Bloc countries."[14]

Sergei Strokan (Source:

Presidential spokesman, Dmitry Peskov claimed that the joint statements by Russian and Chinese leaders Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping should be carefully studied to achieve a better understanding of the results of the Moscow talks.

"These were very, very productive talks, statements were made to the media. For additional analysis and, perhaps [an understanding] of the atmosphere surrounding the talks and the results of the negotiations, it is very important to familiarize oneself in detail with the text of the two declarations that have been signed on part of the heads of states," declared Peskov.

Peskov stressed the importance of the declaration, calling for intensified relations between the states. The declaration contains "a common vision of the present and prospects for our bilateral relations, our common attitude to the world processes, to the processes of transforming international relations."[15]

Fyodor Lukyanov, editor-in-chief of Russia in Global Affairs based his assessment on a comparison between Xi's address ten years ago. He believed that China had come a long way towards Russia. He wrote:

"China, battered like the rest of the world by the coronavirus pandemic, approached the Ukrainian crisis with the understanding that the measured era is over. And further success is possible not by evading international conflicts, as Beijing preferred to act before, but by prudent participation in them. Moreover, in terms of accumulated capabilities, China is better prepared than many for a time of upheaval. This does not cancel the risks, but there is no path without them.

"Since the late 1980s, bets [in Russia and China] have been placed on integrating into the international system dominated by the West. On this path, successes have been achieved [by Russia] (however, they  are incomparable to the Chinese ones). However, by the end of the 2000s and especially the beginning of the 2010s, the limitations became clear. First, of an economic nature: external players, of course, were not interested in Russia rising above a certain level [...] Secondly, the geopolitical conflict began to expand rapidly. Russia has reached its ceiling in some way. The [Western] partners did not want to contribute to it. [...] Moreover, like China, Russia felt that the very system into which it had sought to integrate in previous decades had begun to change.

"The above, of course, is a rough outline, which leaves a lot of nuances outside the brackets. But it allows us to understand why the current rapprochement between Moscow and Beijing, in addition to various opportunistic reasons, has a fairly solid foundation. Our countries, each for their own reasons, do not, and will not, fit into the international system that was built under the auspices of the West after the Cold War. So, they are in favor of replacing it. And it's easier to change things together."

The Valdai Discussion Club think tank' program director Timofei Bordachev claimed that the Sino-Russian partnership was more resilient than wartime alliances.

"There were a few rare exceptions [when states banded together]: the USSR and the USA during World War II, Russia and France at the beginning of World War I, and even further back in history – Russia and Great Britain in the fight against Napoleon's aggressive plans. Note that in all these cases, the great powers joined forces precisely in the course of hostilities.

"The modern partnership between Russia and China is a peacetime partnership, and this is its main difference from the examples given. It was not originally directed against anyone in their international environment..."

It was an error to speak of junior and senior partners in the relations between the two nations:

"Russia and China can never create a 'vertical' [top down] type of relationship between themselves – this is the complexity of our partnership and this is its strength. Therefore, the articles by Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping faced a very difficult task: to outline not only the unity of views on the main issues of bilateral relations and world politics, but also the nuances of the approaches of both sides to their solution. In international relations, China and Russia are confronting what Xi Jinping calls 'despotism' and Vladimir Putin calls 'elusive dominance' by the West. Both heads of state note progress in bilateral relations and a huge number of obstacles and difficulties in the international arena. It is very important that the Chinese and Russian leaders are aware of how titanic their mission to destroy the dictatorship in world affairs is.

"With regard to the West, Russia's position is more rigid and this is due to a direct military-political conflict surrounding Ukraine. Due to the fact that Russia was the first to be struck by the West, our ability to talk with the U.S. and its vassals is seriously limited. The Chinese approach has traditionally been less decisive, but is now moving closer to the Russian one rather quickly. This is evident from the text of Xi Jinping's article. Beijing is increasingly losing hope for a dialogue with the West. Now, it is important for him [Xi] to prevent a dangerous collision. In this sense, Russia provides the military dimension of the struggle for a more just world order, while China takes on an economic and, partly, diplomatic mission. The recent talks in Beijing between Iran and Saudi Arabia have been a success not only for Chinese but also for Russian diplomacy. And, of course, [they represent] a defeat for Washington, which is accustomed to playing a central role in the entire region of the Middle East."[16]

Timofei Bordachev (Source:

In a column for "RIA Novosti" outlet, David Narmanya compared the summit to the famous meetings of the heads of the Allied nations during World War II:

"Moscow-23 is, in fact, a new Tehran conference, which outlines the already visible contours of the post-conflict world order. And, of course, this is not about the fight against the Kiev regime, but about a much more important confrontation with the West. Yes... victory remains a long way away because everything may not end in Ukraine. A high probability exists that the United States and its allies will try to take revenge: there are many potential conflict points around the globe. But the obvious problems of the guardians of the old world are already quickly becoming visible – namely the inability of the entire NATO bloc to resist Russia in Ukraine, and economic problems signaling a deepening crisis, and the internal discontent [displayed by] the inhabitants of certain Western countries.

"The old world is dying because of its injustice. For many years, the West has declared adherence to democratic values inside it, while spreading tyranny outside. It was a trade upon the idea of freedom, but in exchange for the idea, real freedom had to be given away. [...] Those who were not satisfied with such a deal were in line for NATO bombing.

"There will still be a struggle for the new world, and the struggle will not be easy. But even after its establishment, we will have to rely not only on force, but also on the ability to maintain a balance of interests, if we want the world order to be more just. This is the only way to ensure its sustainability."[17]


[1], March 21, 2023.

[2], March 21, 2023.

[3] March 20, 2023.

[4], March 22, 2023.

[5], March 23, 2023.

[6], March 21, 2023.

[7], March 21, 2023.

[8], March 21, 2023.

[9], March 22, 2023.

[10], March 20, 2023.

[11], March 20, 2023.

[12], March 20, 2023.

[13], March 21, 2023.

[14], March 23, 2023.

[15], March 22, 2023.

[16], March 21, 2023.

[17], March 23, 2023.

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