Russia’s ties with China are the “best in history”, President Vladimir Putin told his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping, as he said Moscow would seek to strengthen military cooperation with Beijing.
The two leaders spoke via video link on Friday, and Putin said he was expecting Xi to make a state visit to Moscow in 2023. If it were to take place, it would be a public show of solidarity by Beijing amid Moscow’s flailing military campaign in Ukraine.
In introductory remarks from the video conference broadcast on state television, Putin said: “We are expecting you, dear Mr chairman, dear friend, we are expecting you next spring on a state visit to Moscow.”
He said the visit would “demonstrate to the world the closeness of Russian-Chinese relations”.
Speaking for about eight minutes, Putin said Russia-China relations were growing in importance as a stabilising factor, and that he aimed to deepen military cooperation between the two countries.
In a response that lasted about a quarter as long, Xi said China was ready to increase strategic cooperation with Russia against the backdrop of what he called a “difficult” situation in the world at large.
Earlier this month, Russia and China conducted joint naval drills, which Russia’s army chief described as a response to the “aggressive” US military posturing in the Asia-Pacific region.
Xi “emphasized that China has noted that Russia has never refused to resolve the conflict through diplomatic negotiations, for which it [China] expresses its appreciation,” Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported of the call.
The Chinese leader told Putin that the road to peace talks on Ukraine would not be smooth and that China would continue to uphold its “objective and fair stance” on the issue, according to CCTV.
“The Chinese side has noted that the Russian side has said it has never refused to resolve the conflict through diplomatic negotiations, and expressed its appreciation for this,” he was quoted as saying.
Xi, however, made clear the ideological affinity between Beijing and Moscow when it came to opposing what both view as the hegemonic US-led West.
“Facts have repeatedly proved that containment and suppression are unpopular, and sanctions and interference are doomed to failure,” Xi told Putin.
“China is ready to work with Russia and all progressive forces around the world that oppose hegemonism and power politics…and firmly defend the sovereignty, security and development interests of both countries and international justice.”
In February, China promised a “no limits” partnership with Russia, which set off alarm bells in the West. Beijing has refused to criticise Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, blaming the United States and NATO for provoking the Kremlin. It has also blasted the sanctions imposed on Russia.
The US State Department on Friday expressed concern over China’s alignment with Russia. “Beijing claims to be neutral, but its behaviour makes clear it is still investing in close ties to Russia,” a spokesperson said, adding Washington was “monitoring Beijing’s activity closely.”
Russia leading supplier of oil to China
Putin also said Russia has become one of China’s leading suppliers of oil and gas.
“Russia has become one of the leaders in oil exports to China”, with 13.8 billion cubic metres of gas shipped via the Power of Siberia pipeline in the first 11 months of 2022.
Russia overtook Saudi Arabia as China’s top crude supplier last month.
Putin added that Russia was China’s second-largest supplier of pipeline gas and fourth-largest of liquefied natural gas (LNG). He said in December, shipments had been 18 percent above daily contractual obligations.
Moscow’s energy exports to China have risen markedly since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which started on February 24. Although Western countries imposed unprecedented sanctions on Russia, China has refrained from condemning its military campaign, instead stressing the need for peace.
But Beijing has also been careful not to provide the sort of direct material support that could provoke Western sanctions against China.
Russian Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak said last month that his country’s energy exports to China had increased in value by 64 percent this year, and by 10 percent in volume.
Last week, Putin inaugurated a gas field in eastern Siberia that will allow Russia to increase its energy exports to China as the West seeks to cut its dependence on Moscow.
China and Russia have drawn closer in recent years as part of what they call a “no-limits” relationship acting as a counterweight to the global dominance of the United States.