Updated Mar 20, 2023 - World

Xi meets "dear friend" Putin in Moscow

Xi Jinping (L) meets Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Photo: Sergei Karpukhin/Sputknik via Getty

Chinese President Xi Jinping arrived in Moscow on Monday for his first visit since Russia's invasion of Ukraine began.

Why it matters: The three-day state visit is a major display of solidarity with Russia from its most important global partner. It comes amid warnings from Washington that Xi might back the Russian war effort more directly by providing arms — claims China has denied.

Driving the news: The two leaders greeted each other as "dear friend" before holding discussions, including over Ukraine, and dining together at a state banquet — a seven-course affair featuring quail blinis, Siberian salmon, venison in cherry sauce and wine from Russia's Black Sea coast, according to a menu shared on Twitter by several journalists.

  • On Monday morning, Xi and Putin also published articles in each other's state media outlets.
  • Xi called for cooperation with Russia to confront “damaging acts of hegemony, domination and bullying.”
  • Putin, meanwhile, thanked Xi for his proposals to mediate over Ukraine, and for understanding the "true causes" of the conflict.

State of play: Thus far, China has not provided weapons or openly breached Western sanctions imposed over Russia's invasion of Ukraine.

  • It has, however, helped shield Russia from Western efforts to isolate it, significantly increased imports of Russian oil, and become an even more crucial source for Russia of key inputs like microchips.
  • While Beijing claims to be a neutral arbiter and presented its own peace plan last month, officials and state media have echoed Putin's arguments that NATO is to blame. Some pro-Ukraine sentiments have been scrubbed from the internet.

Of note: Xi's trip comes after Putin visited the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol over the weekend.

The big picture: Russia is far more reliant on China than vice-versa, particularly since the invasion.

  • But Russia remains a key source of oil, arms and military technology for China, and a key diplomatic partner given its seat on the UN Security Council and like-minded approach to disputes with the West, said Alexander Gabuev, an expert on the Russia-China relationship at the Carnegie Endowment.
  • "It's a very strong signal [from China] that, 'we will continue developing this strategic partnership, and it doesn't matter what the U.S. says about it," Gabuev said.

What's next: Xi is scheduled to remain in Russia until Wednesday.

  • After the visit, he's expected to hold his first call since the invasion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with additional details throughout.

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