Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday admitted for the first time that Xi Jinping had “concerns” about the situation in Ukraine amid a devastating counter-offensive — but praised China’s leader for his “balanced” approach to the conflict.
Putin made the remarks during his first face-to-face meeting with Xi since the start of the war, which has killed thousands of people and sent food and energy prices soaring throughout the world.
The two leaders met in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a security alliance created as a counterweight to US influence that also includes India and Pakistan.
Xi said he was very happy to meet “my old friend” again after Putin said “ugly” attempts by the US to create a unipolar world would fail.
“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told Xi. “We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
Putin’s remarks about China’s concerns over the war come just days after a lightning rout of Moscow’s soldiers in northeastern Ukraine, which saw Kyiv’s forces reclaim several occupied cities and villages.
Xi, on whom the Communist Party is due next month to bestow a historic third leadership term and thus cement his place as the country’s most powerful leader since Mao Zedong, did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks.
China has refrained from condemning Russia’s operation against Ukraine or calling it an “invasion” in line with the Kremlin, which casts the war as “a special military operation.”
The last time Xi and Putin met in person, just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, they declared a “no limits” partnership and inked a promise to collaborate more against the West.
Still, Beijing has been careful not to offer material support to Russia that could trigger Western sanctions on China’s economy.
While Xi has now met Putin in person 39 times since becoming China’s president in 2013, he has yet to meet President Biden in person since the latter became US commander-in-chief in 2021.
Putin also met Thursday with Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi, whose country is on track to join the Shanghai Cooperation Organization. Raisi said Moscow and Tehran were finalizing a major treaty that would bring their relations to a “strategic level.”
He and Putin both criticized the US at the start of their meeting. Raisi accused the US of breaching its obligations under Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. Putin quipped of American officials, “They are masters of their word — they give it and then take it back whenever they want.”
With Post wires