Xi and Putins friendship in question as China prepares weapons

Russian state media propagandists have questioned the Kremlin’s “friendship” with China after Xi Jinping spoke with Mr Zelensky on the phone towards the end of April. The conversation has led to a “development of bilateral relations”, according to the Ukrainian President, and it has infuriated Vladimir Putin’s media puppets. War analyst Sergei Mardan on Russian talk channel SolovyevLive said Xi’s state visit to Moscow last month had undermined the Kremlin in light of his subsequent call with Kyiv, adding that it now appeared that Xi had been “interrupting Putin’s work” before “calling our enemy”.

Speaking on the channel of Vladimir Solovyov, Putin’s most-watched TV propagandist, Mardan said that at the start of April, Putin’s supporters believed Xi would “definitely not” phone Zelensky and that the Chinese leader’s visit to Moscow was “our Russian victory”.

According to Mardan, Russia had “joy and confidence” that Xi was their ally and saw Zelensky as a Western “puppet”.

“And then boom – this,” he told viewers. “How do we take this call? Why did he call our enemy?

“Comrade Xi Jinping, why did you come to Moscow?

“And spend three days here, interrupting Putin’s work? So as a result of his three-day stay in Moscow, he goes back to his Beijing, spends a week talking to his advisors – and then decides to call Zelensky.

“What are we supposed to think? Do we have friendship, or what?”

On April 26, after his phone call with Xi, Mr Zelensky described the conversation as “long and meaningful”, adding that it had deepend the two nations’ relationship.

“I believe that this call, as well as the appointment of Ukraine’s ambassador to China, will give a powerful impetus to the development of our bilateral relations,” he added in a Facebook post.

But he also reiterated that Ukraine would not make “territorial compromises”, an issue that China has sidestepped in its proposed plans for resolving the conflict to refrain from publicly criticising its main ally in Russia.

This discord speaks more widely to the careful position China is attempting to take, gaining geopolitical influence by liaising with both sides of the conflict – the same cannot be said for the US – without undermining its anti-Western stance and alliances.


The US has said that China is preparing to send weapons to Russia to be used in Ukraine, which, if true, would prevent Xi from credibly claiming to stand for peace in the region.

In March, US President Joe Biden told reporters: “I’ve been hearing now for the past three months that China is going to provide significant weapons to Russia. They haven’t yet. Doesn’t mean they won’t, but they haven’t yet”.

White House officials subsequently described the supposed “neutrality” of China with regard to wanting peace in Ukraine as a “thin veneer” masking a more sinister partisanship.

Whether Vladimir Putin shares this opinion is unclear but the Kremlin has said it “welcomes China’s willingness to play a positive role” in resolving Ukraine.

In an official joint statement following their meeting on March 21, Xi and Putin said: “The Russian side welcomes China’s willingness to play a positive role for the political and diplomatic settlement of the Ukraine crisis and welcomes the constructive proposals set forth in China’s position on the political settlement of the Ukraine Crisis.”

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This message likely implies one of two mutually inclusive possibilities: Russia recognises Chinese negotiations with Ukraine as beneficial to their own interests and not Kyiv’s; the extent to which they rely on China is significant enough to preclude questioning Xi’s actions, irrespective of to what extent it benefits Beijing more than Moscow.

Analysts are increasingly pointing to the shifts in China’s consumption of Russian oil to speak to this latter point that one is becoming a vassal state of the other.

In March this year, for example, just over a year since Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine, Russia took over from Saudi Arabia as China’s top oil supplier. China’s crude oil purchases from Russia have stood at over 1 million barrels per day (BPD) since May 2022.

Under an array of sanctions, China is increasingly responsible for funding the Russian economy and its war effort in Ukraine via its heightened purchasing of its crude oil and other energy supplies. Russia cannot afford for that cash flow to cease.

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