RUSSIA, THE JUNIOR PARTNER
What is happening in Ukraine makes Putin look weak. And it makes Xi also look weak by association.
It’s not hard to imagine that Putin’s public admission of Xi’s concerns was engineered to be in both leaders’ interest, with Russia playing the junior partner in the relationship and risking even more global approbation.
The message was intended for an international audience – it was not covered by Chinese state media. It allows China to showcase its international standing, to show the world Xi can speak bluntly to Putin who will “explain in detail our position” in response.
Though China is snapping up Russian oil and gas at highly discounted prices, Beijing has not lent support in ways that could trigger sanctions. Being seen to publicly “criticise” Russia could lend China more buffer to indirectly support Russia – such as recent agreements to pay for natural gas supplies in roubles and yuan.
This, in turn, allows Russia to preserve a crucial economic lifeline while it spends millions a day on the invasion. China has purchased a total of US$43.68 billion in oil, gas, coal and electricity imports from Russia so far this year, with a record US$8.3 billion in August.
How all this plays out should be closely followed until Xi and Putin meet again at the G20 summit in Bali in November.
James Carouso is a Senior Fellow and Chair of the Australia Advisory Board at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, Washington DC, and a former Acting US Ambassador to Australia.