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FILE PHOTO: Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping walk during a meeting at the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia March 21, 2023.

Sputnik/Grigory Sysoyev/Kremlin via REUTERS

Putin visits his pal in Beijing

Russian President Vladimir Putin will be in Beijing on Thursday for talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, in a rare overseas trip to publicly underline strong relations. It’s Putin’s first journey since he was inaugurated for his fifth term as president and parallels Xi’s visit to Russia last year after he ascended to his unprecedented third term.
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U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken arrives at the Beijing Capital International Airport, in Beijing, China, April 25, 2024.

Mark Schiefelbein/Pool via REUTERS

Blinken meets with Xi, but no breakthroughs

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken brought up concerns over China's support for Russia with his counterpart Wang Yi in Beijing on Friday, before meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Blinken’s visit is largely meant to advance the mutual goal of stabilizing the relationship, and Xi said he wants to be "partners, not rivals" with the United States.

As Blinken landed in Shanghai for the first leg of his trip earlier this week, the Biden administration signed bills providing Taiwan with $8 billion in military aid and starting a process that could result in a ban of the popular video app TikTok in the US unless its Chinese owner, ByteDance, sells. The day before, the State Department released its annual human rights review, which criticized Chinese treatment of Muslim minorities.

Once he landed, Blinken pressed Shanghai Communist Party Secretary Chen Jining on treating US companies fairly. Meanwhile, he told students at NYU’s Shanghai campus that the cultural ties being built between both countries are of utmost importance.

Despite the many possible pratfalls during the first leg, China’s response has been fairly milquetoast. Spokesperson Wang Wenbin said, “We hope that the US side will respect the principle of fair competition, abide by WTO rules, and work with China to create favorable [trade] conditions.” Hardly “Wolf Warrior” stuff, and Wang said Friday that ties are “beginning to stabilize.”

Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Maxim Shipenkov/Pool via Reuters/File Photo

Putin-Xi “friendship” threatens Arctic

A new report quoted in the Globe and Mail suggests how Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping’s “friendship without limits” is progressing: Russia is giving very generously in exchange for China buying its oil.

The report by Strider Technologies says China is gaining a major foothold in the Arctic as Russia shifts its defense priorities to the war in Ukraine. Since Putin’s invasion, 234 Chinese-owned companies have registered to operate in the Russian-controlled Arctic, Strider said, an 87% increase on the two years prior. Besides resource exploitation and investment aimed at developing Russia’s Northern Sea shipping route, the two have been deepening security ties in the form of joint exercises in the Bering Sea.

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Russian President Vladimir Putin shakes hands with China Media Group anchor Wang Guan

Reuters

Putin’s pessimistic prospects in Beijing

President Vladimir Putin – on a rare venture outside Russia – is in China for a forum marking the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative. While Putin hopes to deepen the countries’ “no limits” partnership, what he really wants is Chinese President Xi Jinping’s promise to build the Power of Siberia 2, a massive pipeline project that would transport natural gas from western Siberia to China.

Russia’s Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, meanwhile, met with his Chinese counterpart, Wang Yi, on Monday in Beijing, where the two discussed resolving the war in Ukraine with “political and diplomatic methods” and the war between Israel and Hamas. They didn’t outline any concrete agreements, which may become a theme this week.

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Chinese President Xi Jinping attends a joint statement with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Reuters

​China’s delicate dance on Ukraine

Over 18 months of war, President Xi Jinping’s pledge of “friendship without limits” with Russia has repeatedly been tested. China blames the West for Russia’s invasion and continues to buy Russia’s oil at discount prices, but it has also refused to endorse Russian claims on Ukrainian land and offers itself as a neutral player that wants peace.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky meeting with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Reuters

The Saudis want to be peacemakers in Ukraine

The Ukraine diplomatic sweepstakes continue with representatives from more than 40 countries set to gather this weekend in the Saudi city of Jeddah to try and forge a path towards peace negotiations between Russia and Ukraine. Kyiv will attend the conference, but Russia wasn’t invited – though the Kremlin says it’ll watch the shindig closely.

This event comes after a similar summit was held in Copenhagen in June. So how is this one different?

First, after balking at the Danes’ invite last time, China has now agreed to attend. That’s a big win for Ukraine, which knows that Beijing has Putin’s ear. It’s also a win for the Saudis, who want the conference to be viewed by the West and Russia alike as a serious diplomatic forum.

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Why Russia is fighting in Ukraine without any allies
Why Russia is fighting in Ukraine without any allies | GZERO World

Why Russia is fighting in Ukraine without any allies

When it comes to the war in Ukraine, Russia stands alone.

From the Russian perspective, the Ukraine invasion is a battle for the survival of the country against NATO and the collective West, who, the Russia says, wants to destroy Russia and eliminate its influence around the world. But given the fact that virtually no allies have joined Russia in a fight it views as perfectly legitimate, does the Kremlin need a sense of reality and be more modest about what it thinks it can accomplish in the region?

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Ukrainian service members fire a mortar towards Russian troops outside the frontline town of Bakhmut, in Donetsk region, Ukraine March 6, 2023.

Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty/Serhii Nuzhnenko via REUTERS

What We’re Watching: Battle for Bakhmut, Xi’s diplomatic muscle, AUKUS sub deal

The Bakhmut killing field

Bakhmut, home to about 75,000 people before the war, has become an urban killing field. Western intelligence agencies say up to 30,000 Russians have died or been seriously injured in the fight to take this town. Ukrainian casualties, harder to estimate, are also running high.

Russians appear to be fighting mainly to achieve some victory following months of setbacks followed by stalemate. They also hope the eventual capture of this town can boost their chances of advancing on larger cities in other parts of Donetsk province, though some analysts say they won’t have the manpower or firepower to advance beyond Bakhmut anytime soon. Adding to Russia’s complications, the Washington-based Institute for the Study of War argues that the country’s defense ministry has likely pushed large numbers of Wagner Group mercenaries to the deadliest sites of fighting in Bakhmut to reduce the Kremlin influence of Wagner chief and frequent critic of the Russian military Yevgeny Prigozhin by thinning out his force.

Though badly outnumbered, Ukrainian forces have been slow to surrender Bakhmut because they want to inflict as much damage as possible on Russian forces ahead of an expected Ukrainian counteroffensive in the coming weeks. For now, the killing continues.

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