Putin Ally meets with China’s top leader and signals close ties

Putin Ally meets with China’s top leader and signals close ties

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A close ally of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met with China’s Supreme Leader Xi Jinping on Wednesday, a sign of the countries’ rapprochement amid Russia’s deepening isolation.

Dmitri A. Medvedev, the former Russian President and Prime Minister, held a previously unannounced meeting with Mr. Xi in Beijing as Chinese and Russian naval vessels began week-long joint exercises in the East China Sea.

China continues to be a significant, if largely silent, counterweight to international criticism of Russia’s President Vladimir V. Putin. Russia has backed China’s claim to the island democracy of Taiwan, and trade between the two countries has only increased as the United States and Europe have imposed sanctions and sought to choke off Russia’s economy.

“Russia has tried to portray a better relationship with China than reality would allow,” said Yun Sun, director of the China program at the Stimson Center in Washington. “It shows how desperate they are and that China has not been as helpful as they would like.”

A long-time Putin ally, Mr Medvedev has emerged as one of the most combative voices in the administration, advocating a hard line on Ukraine and its allies, most notably the United States. He is Deputy Chairman of Mr Putin’s Security Council and Chairman of Mr Putin’s ruling United Russia party.

Mr Medvedev, in a short video address after meeting Mr Xi, said he discussed “the cooperation between the two ruling parties” as well as “our strategic partnership in all areas”.

For the Kremlin, the meeting served as useful counter-programming hours before President Volodymyr Zelenskyy of Ukraine was due to meet President Biden. On Monday, Mr Putin himself met with President Aleksandr G. Lukashenko of Belarus to discuss deepening economic and military ties with the close Russian ally.

In Beijing, Mr Xi told Mr Medvedev that relations between the two countries have “passed the test of international change” and that their partnership is a “long-term strategic decision by both sides,” according to state broadcaster China Central Television.

Mr. Xi reiterated that China has actively promoted peace talks on Ukraine crises, and China hopes the relevant parties will exercise rational restraint, engage in comprehensive dialogue, and address common security concerns through political means.

The military drills, which have been held annually since 2012, cap a year that began with China and Russia pledged a “borderless” partnership on the eve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Since then, Beijing has poured funds to buy Russian oil while the United States and Europe impose sanctions. Although Mr Putin referred to “questions and concerns” from Mr Xi when they met in person in September, the countries’ economic and military ties have continued to deepen.

The drills, which will involve a Russian-led missile cruiser and Chinese destroyers, will include joint air defense and anti-submarine activities to improve coordination and cooperation between the two navies, according to the foreign ministries of both countries.

Military cooperation between the two countries has expanded over the past decade, although Russia and China are not formal allies who would defend each other in war. Both view the United States as their greatest security threat and want to create an alternative to the European-US-led international order.

During a discussion in Moscow in October, Mr Putin praised the state of relations with China, saying they had “reached a level of openness, mutual trust and effectiveness unprecedented in recent decades”.

China appears reluctant to support Russia’s beleaguered war effort by staying away from arms supplies or actively supporting efforts to circumvent Western sanctions aimed at punishing Russia for the invasion.

Zixu Wang contributed to the coverage.

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