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Putin’s Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Week Looks Even Worse Through a China Lens

A series of meetings reveal how Beijing is stealing Russia’s influence even in its own backyard.

Russian President Vladimir Putin delivers a speech in televised address to nation to announce partial military mobilization in Russia, in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin just had a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad week. And it wasn’t just about losses in Ukraine or having to announce conscription at home. A series of meetings—and what was said and wasn’t said at them— has revealed just how much Russian influence is weakening even in its once spheres of influence, and how China is taking advantage. 

Start with Sept. 7, when the No. 3 man in China’s Politburo Standing Committee, Li Zhanshu, visited Russian officials on a previously planned tour of the country. Following the meetings, the Russian State Duma reported that Li said that “China understands and supports Russia on issues that represent its vital interests, in particular on the situation in Ukraine.” But Chinese state media told a different story, omitting any mention of Ukraine and declaring that Moscow firmly supports China on the Taiwan question. Much to China’s chagrin, a video soon emerged of Li saying that Beijing understands Russian “measures” taken to safeguard the country’s “core interests” from pressure by the U.S. and NATO.

In short, it seems that both sides stated at the meeting that they understood the other’s main areas of contention with the West, but neither were willing to publicly admit their mutual support to the international community.  

Just a week later, it was a different story. China’s leader Xi Jinping met with Putin on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit in Uzbekistan. As the Russian leader arrived to meet his counterparts, Ukraine was retaking the city of Izyum and gearing up to boot Russian forces from Kharkiv Oblast in a disordered and humiliating retreat. 

At this meeting, the Russian position had shifted. This time, Putin went out of his way to express support for China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait against “provocations by the United States,” while also openly accepting Chinese “concerns” about his own conflict in Ukraine. The Chinese side, noticeably, did not reciprocate. Far from offering public support for Russia’s war, Xi didn’t even use the word “Ukraine” in his remarks. 

Source: Defense One