President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia mentioned on Thursday that Moscow understood that China had “questions and considerations” in regards to the conflict in Ukraine — a notable, if cryptic, admission from Mr. Putin that Beijing could not absolutely approve of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
And his Chinese language counterpart, Xi Jinping — in his first face-to-face assembly with Mr. Putin for the reason that invasion started — struck a much more subdued tone than the Russian president, and steered clear in his public feedback of any point out of Ukraine in any respect.
Taken collectively, the remarks had been a stark signal that Russia lacks the complete backing of its strongest worldwide accomplice because it tries to recuperate from a humiliating rout in northeastern Ukraine final week.
The 2 authoritarian leaders met throughout a summit in Uzbekistan that was meant to sign the power of the connection between the international locations at a time of accelerating animosity with the West and challenges to their agendas. The assembly was notably vital to Mr. Putin, who has grow to be extra remoted by the US and its allies over his invasion of Ukraine.
“We extremely admire the balanced place of our Chinese language associates in reference to the Ukrainian disaster,” Mr. Putin mentioned in televised remarks at the beginning of the assembly. “We perceive your questions and considerations on this regard. Throughout at this time’s assembly, in fact, we’ll clarify intimately our place on this concern, though we’ve got spoken about this earlier than.”
Whereas Chinese language officers have supplied some lip service in latest months to Russia’s message that the conflict in Ukraine was the West’s fault, Mr. Xi didn’t repeat any of these strains in his televised feedback. He rigorously prevented providing any endorsement of particular Russian insurance policies, as a substitute providing generalities about China’s and Russia’s view of the world.
After the assembly, China launched an announcement saying that it was “able to work with Russia in extending robust help to one another on points regarding their respective core pursuits.”
It was a strikingly totally different tone from Mr. Xi than in early February, earlier than the invasion. The 2 international locations issued a joint assertion earlier than the beginning of the Winter Olympics in Beijing describing their partnership as having “no limits.”
The lukewarm Chinese language help leaves Mr. Putin in an more and more tough spot because the invasion approaches the seven-month mark and he faces rising criticism inside Russia about how he’s conducting the conflict.
Sergey Radchenko, a professor on the Johns Hopkins College of Superior Worldwide Research, mentioned Mr. Putin “has severely undercut his leverage with China” by slicing himself off from the West.
“He has nowhere else to show however to China,” Mr. Radchenko mentioned. “And the Chinese language are greatest at taking care of their very own pursuits.”
In distinction with Mr. Xi’s circumspect remarks, Mr. Putin railed in opposition to the “unipolar,” American-led world order that he sees Beijing and Moscow aligned in opposition to.
“We collectively stand for the formation of a simply, democratic and multipolar world order based mostly on worldwide regulation and the central function of the U.N., and never on some guidelines that somebody has provide you with and is attempting to impose on others, with out even explaining what it’s about,” Mr. Putin advised Mr. Xi.
Requested in regards to the summit assembly at a information convention on Thursday, a State Division spokesman, Ned Value, mentioned it was “not shocking” that China had considerations in regards to the conflict.
“It’s considerably curious,” Mr. Value added, “that President Putin can be the one to confess it.”
China has been an important commerce accomplice for Russia within the months for the reason that invasion started and Western nations turned their backs. China has elevated its exports of some items to Russia, and it purchased document ranges of Russian oil in Could, June and July.
However China has executed little to assist circumvent Western sanctions that forestall Russia from importing superior Western know-how. It additionally seems to have refrained to this point this yr from delivery weapons to Russia, forcing Moscow to ask Iran and North Korea for army tools.
Mr. Putin and Mr. Xi met on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Group, a multilateral, security-focused group that features China, Russia, India, Pakistan and 4 Central Asian nations. For Mr. Xi, the gathering was an opportunity to renew his function as a worldwide statesman. It was his first journey overseas since he went to Myanmar in January 2020.
Edward Wong contributed reporting.