Ukraine Live Updates: Under Pressure From the West, Putin Turns to China

ImagePresident Vladimir Putin of Russia and China’s leader, Xi Jinping, prior to their talks in Beijing on Friday. The meeting is the first that Mr. Xi has held in person with a foreign counterpart in nearly two years.
Credit…Pool photo by Alexei Druzhinin

BEIJING — President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia met Xi Jinping, China’s leader, in Beijing on Friday in a highly choreographed display of unity as Mr. Putin confronts the United States and NATO over Ukraine.

“We are working together to bring to life true multilateralism,” Mr. Xi told Mr. Putin, according to the Kremlin translation of their remarks. “Defending the real spirit of democracy serves as a reliable foundation for uniting the world in overcoming crises and defending equality.”

The meeting — the first that Mr. Xi has held in person with a foreign counterpart in nearly two years — highlighted the deepening ties between two authoritarian leaders even as President Biden struggles to contain diplomatic crises with both.

Mr. Putin will also attend the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympics, as the most prominent of nearly two dozen world leaders whose attendance has blunted the impact of a “diplomatic boycott” by President Biden and other leaders of democratic nations.

Mr. Putin has massed more than 100,000 troops near the Ukrainian border, in what American officials have warned could be a prelude to an invasion.

Although the intention behind the buildup remains uncertain, the Kremlin has accused the United States of exaggerating the threat of an invasion and of raising tensions by deploying its own troops to Eastern Europe. Earlier this week, Mr. Putin said the United States was trying to goad the Kremlin into action and complained that the West had ignored Russia’s demands for security guarantees.

In scenes initially shown on Russian state television, Mr. Putin greeted Mr. Xi on a red carpet at the government guesthouse in western Beijing, raising his hand in greeting. The Chinese leader responded, through a translator: “Hello! I’m very glad to see you.”

Mr. Putin told him that the Chinese-Russian relationship had “taken on a truly unprecedented character.” “It is an example of a dignified relationship that helps each of us develop while supporting each other’s development,” Mr. Putin said.

Mr. Putin’s delegation included Igor Sechin, the powerful head of the Russian oil giant Rosneft. Mr. Putin said that Friday’s talks would include discussion of increasing Russian energy exports to China. “Our oil people prepared very good, new solutions for delivering hydrocarbons to the People’s Republic of China,” Mr. Putin said.

Despite extraordinary measures both men have taken during the coronavirus pandemic, neither leader wore a mask as they greeted each other.

In the days leading up to the meeting — the 38th between the two leaders — Beijing expressed support for Mr. Putin’s grievances against the United States and NATO, and it joined Russia to try to block action on Ukraine at the United Nations Security Council.

Although not a party to the conflict, the Chinese government has viewed the showdown as a test of American influence and resolve that could distract Mr. Biden from his administration’s focus on China as the pre-eminent strategic rival of the 21st century.

Any new Chinese promises of economic and political support for Mr. Putin could undermine Mr. Biden’s strategy to ostracize the Russian leader for the military buildup. They could also signal a tectonic shift in the rivalry between the United States and China, with possible reverberations from Europe to the Pacific.

On Thursday, Mr. Putin, in an article with the Chinese state news agency Xinhua, pledged to discuss trade and business deals with Mr. Xi, as well as strategies to create global financial mechanisms that would “offset the negative impact of unilateral sanctions.”

China and Russia have long bristled over the United States’ tactics of restricting dollar-denominated transactions as a way to exert diplomatic pressure, though Chinese companies in the past have abided by them.

Trade between the two countries has soared in recent years, giving Mr. Putin more alternative outlets — especially for natural resources — in the event the United States and Europe seek to impose new penalties on Russian companies.

Claire Fu contributed research.

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