Before his meeting with his friend Xi Jinping, Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin is demonstratively calm at the wheel of a car in the occupied territories of Ukraine. For the first time since the beginning of the war, Putin not only visited the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea on Saturday to mark the 9th anniversary of the annexation.
Even before the arrival of China's party and head of state Xi Jinping for the three-day state visit this Monday, Putin also drove through the destroyed Ukrainian port city of Mariupol, which was occupied by Russian troops. The 70-year-old was informed about the reconstruction.
Loaded with impressions from his first trip to the war zone, Putin meets Xi Jinping at banquets and negotiations, who is paying his first foreign trip to neighboring Russia since the beginning of his third term in office. For Putin, who was issued with an arrest warrant for war crimes in Ukraine by the International Criminal Court in The Hague on Friday, the timing of the long-planned visit comes in handy. With the visit of his powerful friend, who, like Russia, sees the United States as the mastermind behind the conflict in Ukraine, Putin wants to show once again that he is not isolated internationally.
China wants to make peace in Ukraine
Like Russia, China does not recognize jurisdiction in The Hague. Putin and Xi are therefore likely to ignore the issue of arrest warrants, but not the war in Ukraine. China had recently spoken out in favor of negotiations and a ceasefire. Russia also welcomes peacemaking initiatives. But it is also clear that Moscow has not abandoned its war aims and wants to win a military victory. According to the Kremlin, Putin is planning an article on Ukraine in Chinese newspapers this Monday -- as an "important signal" before the negotiations. Xi Jinping, in turn, has prepared an article for Russian media, it said.
However, it remains unclear whether and how Xi Jinping will use his influence on Putin to mediate peace. The 69-year-old had also warned of nuclear threats. At the Munich Security Conference, China's leading foreign politician, Wang Yi, presented a 12-point plan for a "political solution to the Ukraine crisis," which, however, met with disappointment above all in Europe.
Topic also military cooperation
The state visit is the "most important event" in the Russian-Chinese partnership, said Putin's foreign policy adviser Yuri Ushakov. The negotiations should give the relations between the two countries a "powerful impetus" - not only for economic cooperation. The signing of documents to expand an "all-encompassing partnership" and "strategic cooperation" is planned.
China, which is hungry for raw materials, relies on oil and gas from the energy superpower. Russia, in turn, is hoping for help from China under the economic pressure of Western sanctions, especially with the delivery of microchips and other technological components and technical equipment.
After reports of a lack of ammunition and weapons for the war, Russia is likely to count on China here too. "The issue of military-technical cooperation will undoubtedly be discussed," Ushakov said on Friday when the state visit was announced. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu has also been invited to the talks.
According to the Kremlin, Xi and Putin will initially meet alone for talks this Monday and have dinner. There it is about the most sensitive issues and the common appearance on the international stage, said Ushakov. With his declaration of war against the "dictatorship of liberalism" in the West - led by the USA - and in the struggle for a new world order, Putin is focusing particularly on China. On Tuesday, negotiations with the governments are planned in an extended and then in a very large format, said Ushakov.
Balancing act for China's head of state Xi Jinping
For Xi Jinping, the visit is considered a balancing act. In the view of many commentators, the arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court against Putin is not least a signal to China not to get involved with a suspected war criminal. China's state media, on the other hand, have long since passed their verdict: Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow will be a "journey of peace, friendship and cooperation."
The two heads of state are linked by a close friendship that has repeatedly been publicly celebrated: Xi and Putin have spent birthdays together, toasted with vodka and eaten pancakes with caviar and Russian milk ice cream. Now they are meeting in person for the 40th time since Xi Jinping took office more than ten years ago.
Public criticism of Vladimir Putin, on the other hand, can hardly be heard in the Chinese discourse. The media, which are under state control, have not yet reported on the arrest warrant for the Kremlin chief. In fact, Putin enjoys great popularity among the Chinese population.
But for Xi Jinping, the trip to Moscow will above all be a diplomatic tightrope act: On the one hand, the state leadership is trying to present China in Europe as a neutral peace nation that is opposed to sanctions, but still adheres to them externally. On the other hand, China has never condemned the war. "Sino-Russian cooperation is entirely correct and should be free from interference or coercion by third parties," Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying tweeted.
At the same time, the news portal "Politico" published a report on Thursday citing customs data: According to this, Chinese companies are said to have delivered weapons to Russia several times in 2022, including a thousand assault rifles that were declared as "civilian" hunting rifles. In addition, Chinese spare parts for combat drones and more than twelve tons of protective equipment are said to have reached Russia - partly via Turkey and the United Arab Emirates.
Many observers believe that an open commitment by China to supply Russia with arms and ammunition would be a triumph for Putin in the negotiations. The price for Beijing to fall under Western sanctions could be very high.