Chinese President Xi Jinping is set to travel to Moscow next week to hold talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin – his first visit to Russia since Kremlin troops invaded Ukraine.
The March 20 to 22 visit, also Xi’s first foreign trip since winning a third term as president, is seen by the West as a show of Beijing’s support for Moscow in its ailing war against Kyiv.
Much speculation has been made as to the nature of the trip, with western officials warning that it may signal China is considering giving Russia military assistance for the fight.
But China, which is trying to present itself as a neutral arbiter of the conflict, has denied such claims, even as it has refused to condemn the invasion.
Whatever the outcome, the meeting is sure to intensify ties between the two leaders who have already met 39 times prior – including over a year ago in Beijing at the Feb. 4, 2022, opening of the Olympics Games. At that encounter, held shortly before Russia invaded Ukraine, the two declared a “no limits” partnership.
Here are the things Putin and Xi seek to gain from their joint meeting and one curveball ahead of it:
Putin wants the weapons
After launching an attack on Ukraine a year ago, Putin found himself with a limited pool of friends, a size that matters when it comes to Moscow’s ability to import and resupply critical arms and munitions in the fight.
China so far has held off on providing such lethal aid, instead choosing to support Russia through boosted trade and extra joint wargames.
But Western officials have recently started to warn that Beijing could soon move to give Moscow military assistance – with next week’s meeting a possible ideal venue for the two to make such an announcement.
Also setting off alarms were comments from Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang, who recently accused the U.S. of hypocrisy in warning China against supplying weapons to Russia, pointing to the Biden administration supplying weapons to Taiwan.
“It’s something that we will watch for,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan told reporters Monday, referring to any glimmers of a weapons agreement between the two nations. “Obviously, Russia has its own interests in trying to pull other countries into this conflict if it can, but our position is the same whether or not they meet.”
The prospect is worrisome to U.S. officials as Chinese weapons, while…
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