MOSCOW – Chinese President Xi Jinping supported Russian President Vladimir Putin in his push to get Western security guarantees precluding NATO's eastward expansion, the Kremlin said Wednesday after the two leaders held a virtual summit.
Putin and Xi spoke as Moscow faces heightened tensions with the West over a Russian troop buildup near Ukraine's border. In recent weeks, Western nations engaged in diplomatic efforts to prevent a possible invasion of Ukraine. The Kremlin has denied harboring plans to storm its neighbor.
Putin, meanwhile, demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy troops and weapons there.
He told Xi on Wednesday about “mounting threats to Russia's national interests from the U.S. and the NATO bloc, which consistently move their military infrastructure close to the Russian borders,” Putin’s foreign affairs adviser, Yuri Ushakov, said.
The Russian leader stressed the need to hold talks with NATO and the U.S. on legally binding security guarantees, according to Ushakov. Xi responded by saying he “understands Russia's concerns and fully supports our initiative to work out these security guarantees for Russia,” Ushakov said.
He said Moscow's proposals have been passed on to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried, who visited Moscow on Wednesday and met with Russia's deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov.
In recent years, China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to counter U.S. domination of the international economic and political order.
Both have faced sanctions — China over its abuses against minorities, especially Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang, and for its crackdown on the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong, and Russia for annexing Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and over the poisoning and imprisonment of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.
Beijing and Washington also remain at odds over trade, technology and China’s military intimidation of Taiwan, which it claims as its own territory.
Russia’s relations with the U.S. sank to post-Cold War lows after it annexed Crimea and threw its weight behind a separatist insurgency in Ukraine’s east. Tensions reignited in recent weeks after Moscow massed tens of thousands of troops near Ukraine’s border, a move Ukraine and the West feared may indicate plans for a new invasion.
Moscow has denied that it plans to attack Ukraine and in turn blamed Ukraine for its own military buildup in the country's war-torn east. Russian officials alleged that Kyiv might try to reclaim the areas controlled by the rebels.
It is within that context that Putin has pressed the West for guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy its forces there.
During their call on Wednesday, Putin and Xi hailed relations between Russia and China, with the Russian leader saying they are based on "such principles as not interfering in internal affairs (of each other), respect for each other's interests, determination to turn the shared border into a belt of eternal peace and good neighborliness.”
Xi said, through a translator, that he appreciated that Putin “strongly supported China’s efforts to protect key national interests and firmly opposed attempts to drive a wedge between our countries.”
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi said “both China and Russia need to carry out more joint actions to more effectively safeguard our security and interests.”
“At present, certain international forces are arbitrarily interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia under the guise of democracy and human rights, and brutally trampling on international law and the norms of international relations,” Xi was quoted by CCTV as saying.
Putin also said he plans to meet with Xi in person in Beijing in February and to attend the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The U.S., Canada, Australia and Britain have said they will not be sending dignitaries to the Winter Olympics as part of a diplomatic boycott to protest China’s human rights record. Other countries have said they won’t be sending officials because of pandemic travel restrictions.
In welcoming Putin’s planned visit, Xi said sports could be a channel for their countries to boost ties.
“Both sides should strengthen coordination and cooperation on international affairs to maker louder voices on global governance, and come up with practical plans on global issues including the pandemic and climate change,” Xi was quoted by CCTV as saying.
China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Xi told Putin he “very much looks forward to this 'get together at the Winter Olympics’ and stands ready to work with President Putin ‘for a shared future’ to jointly open a new chapter in post-COVID China-Russia relations.”