In the midst of his war against Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin received China’s head of state and party leader Xi Jinping for a three-day state visit. Right at the start, Putin told his “friend” in the Kremlin that he was familiar with Beijing’s proposals to solve the crisis. Xi Jinping countered that there are no simple solutions to complicated crises. Earlier, he was greeted by soldiers on drill and a military orchestra at the Vnukovo government airport in the sunshine.

In the parade hall of the Senate Palace on the Kremlin grounds, Putin and Xi then shook hands for a long time. The Kremlin chief stressed that Russia is open to talks about Ukraine. “We are undoubtedly discussing all these issues, including your initiative,” Putin said alongside Xi in front of a fireplace. The fact that the two men, almost the same age – Putin is 70, Xi 69 – was sitting by the fireplace is considered a sign of special closeness. The hall also contains the large, oval negotiating table, where Putin regularly receives state guests.

China has never condemned Russia’s war against Ukraine in more than a year. On the first anniversary on February 24, 2022, it presented a 12-point plan for a “political solution to the Ukraine crisis”, which was largely met with disappointment in the West. Beijing is committed to a ceasefire and negotiations.

Xi backs Putin

For Putin, who has had an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court for war crimes since Friday, the visit is also particularly important because he wants to show that he is not internationally isolated. Putin said he envied China’s economic success. Russia’s economy, on the other hand, is groaning under the sanctions imposed by the West in the wake of the war.

For Xi, the visit to the big neighbor is also the first trip abroad since the beginning of his third term. As soon as he was greeted, the Chinese made everyone sit up and take notice because he himself mentioned the presidential elections in Russia in March next year, which have otherwise been ignored in domestic politics. According to reports from Russian state media, he expressed confidence that Putin will emerge victorious from the election.

“Thanks to your strong leadership, Russia has made significant strides in achieving achievements and the country’s prosperity in recent years. I am confident that the Russian people will support you in your good intentions,” Xi said, according to the Russian translation. The statement was explosive because Putin has not yet declared his candidacy. The Kremlin boss didn’t change his face.

The Kremlin, however, immediately denied that Xi had said that Putin would run for election. “Chairman Xi did not say that Putin will take part in the election. Chairman Xi has expressed his belief that Russians support Putin, and here one can only share his belief,” said Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Putin insists on ‘new geopolitical realities’

In the morning, the state press in China and Russia published lengthy articles in which Putin and Xi reaffirmed their friendship. The meeting also comes in the light of both countries’ aspirations for a US-led world without Western hegemony. In the Renmin Bibao newspaper, Putin once again criticized “illegal unilateral sanctions that should be abolished.” In it he also commented on the war and the willingness to find a diplomatic solution.

“The future of the peace process depends solely on the readiness for a serious dialogue, taking into account the new geopolitical realities,” he wrote. From a Russian point of view, this means that Ukraine should give up areas. Kyiv refuses. In addition, Putin once again called on NATO to take the security interests of others into account. “We are concerned about the irresponsible and simply dangerous actions that can destroy global nuclear security.”

Expansion of economic cooperation

In the Russian government newspaper “Rossiyskaya Gazeta”, Xi Jinping again emphasized Beijing’s “objective and impartial” attitude to the war in Ukraine. China is making active efforts to support peace negotiations and reconciliation. Any settlement of the Ukraine conflict would have to respect the goals and principles of the UN Charter. The “reasonable concerns of all states in the field of security” must be taken into account.

Above all, the two heads of state want to expand economic cooperation between their countries during the talks, which will last until Wednesday. The most important day is Tuesday. According to the Kremlin, the signing of agreements to expand an “all-encompassing partnership” and “strategic cooperation” is also planned. After meeting face to face, Putin and Xi ended their first day with dinner together.

Heusgen: Russia is a “discount gas station” for China

According to the head of the Munich Security Conference, Xi’s visit to Putin is important for both statesmen. Putin wants to show his people that “Russia is not isolated – last week he received an arrest warrant from the International Criminal Court,” said Christoph Heusgen on ntv. “He’s sort of an outcast of the international community now.” The three-day state visit suits him well, especially since the war is not going the way Putin had imagined and the country is also not doing well economically.

Referring to the benefits for China’s state and party leader and Russia’s oil and gas wealth, Heusgen said, “Russia is now a discount gas station for China. Of course, Xi appreciates that.” Xi Jinping needs Russia in system competition with the USA. Because of Russia’s self-isolation, Putin is now a junior partner for China.