Twitter Space: Making Sense of Xi and Putin’s Meeting
With all eyes on Moscow with President Putin and Xi meeting, GLOBSEC’s Alena Kudzko and Roland Freundenstein speak with Catherine Girard to preview the potential takeaways of the bilateral summit, if this in-person format might become more regular, the impact of China’s involvement on “neutral nations” , and how Ukraine’s allies should react.
What are the key points discussed in the episode?
- As China seeks to craft an image of a responsible global actor, its inability to publicly back Russia while maintaining loose relations with western powers explains in part why it took so long for President Xi to visit Moscow. While positioning itself as peace broker in the conflict, it has used this veneer to justify a state visit to its allies on the hope that it will without damage its image outside of the west as a credible peace broker.
- For President Putin the visit of his Chinese counterpart is not only symbolic and moral boosting, but a way to re-iterate to the west that Russia is not diplomatically isolated and brandish his international profile at home and abroad. Practically, Putin will want to try to rectify his various vulnerable positions by securing the delivery of military equipment and securing support to circumvent sanctions.
- Collectively both leaders are looking to demonstrate unity and recreate the moral boost that emerged for Ukraine, and its partners, after President Biden visited Kyiv. Furthermore, they are looking to standing shoulder to shoulder as authoritarians and repel the perceived destabilization efforts of its adversaries (the ‘Global West’).
- Xi is looking to position himself as global peace maker, where the recent success of Iran and Saudi Arabia rapprochement could be interpreted as a dry-run for a bigger peace deal between Ukraine and Russia despite the higher complexities of the situation in Europe.
- Surprisingly Russia has accepted its role as the junior partner vis-à-vis China, and this confirms it desperation when you consider the long-standing historical animosity between both countries. Today they are bound by the same existential enemy in the west.
- The chance of these in-persons meetings happening frequently is unlikely as there can be no equalization of profiles between Putin and Xi. In the case of the latter, Xi decides when and who he wants to meet and will be not dictated by another schedule. At the same time, to maintain his deal maker credentials, he can’t be seen too often publicly meeting Putin. To ensure coordination, there are several workarounds possible like sending other emissaries, such as Belarussian President Lukashenko to Beijing to get things going.
- When it comes to discouraging lethal assistance, it remains a delicate balancing act for western governments. While the west is threatening economic sanctions against China for its support to Russia, it is a double-edged sword and could be tempted to call its bluff.
- Until China begins to deliver decisive lethal material, like tanks, the current deliveries to Russia do not cross the western threshold. Consequently, the west will continue to be careful in enacting heavy sanctions and disrupting trade against China, especially with many European economies in a fragile state.
- It is not inevitable that China will deliver arms to Russia. Beijing remains stuck in a policy quagmire with it not wanting Russia to lose but also not win so triumphantly given its sensitivity on the changing of territorial borders.
- Despite the meeting in Moscow, President Zelensky should consider working with President Xi to diminish the chance that China will decide to increase its lethal support to Russia and keep the option of China investing in its eventual reconstruction on the table. Consequently, President Zelensky needs to find the right conditions to have a productive dialogue with President Xi.
- Any decision by China to deliver lethal aid to Russia could be a catalyst to alter the current position of other “neutral” states.
- The past year of Russian activities in Ukraine has served as teachable moment for Xi who might be having second thoughts about invading Taiwan. In the event Xi finally did choose to invade Taiwan, he would be under no obligation to inform Putin who would, of course, welcome this conflict as a second front against the west.
- When it comes the delivery of modern jets to Ukraine, if China does in fact go in on providing decisive military aid to Russia it could make the choices of western leaders easier, although it would take a significant amount of time to see any results materialize.
Listen to the episode below.