Xi Jinping’s feelers to Russia in the midst of the war in Ukraine seek to deepen cooperation with Vladimir Putin. The world has been kept guessing on the details of what transpired through the ether on Wednesday, but the fact of the matter must be that it did signal the geopolitical reality, specifically that the Russian President’s invasion of Ukraine has not impinged on Xi’s basic commitment to their partnership. The telephone conversation between the two leaders happened to be their first since February this year when Russia launched its full assault on Ukraine. It is critical to underline that since 23 February, when the war began, the government in Beijing has preserved ties with Moscow, indeed emerged as the largest buyer of oil. It has maintained that it is trying to play the role of an impartial broker for peace in the former Soviet satellite. The summary of the interaction between Mr Xi and Mr Putin, issued by China’s foreign ministry, left little doubt that the Chinese leader remains committed to close ties with the Kremlin. This is clearly aimed at offsetting the increasing antagonism between the United States and its allies. Deeply profound is the readout of Mr Xi’s statement to Mr Putin ~ “Throughout this year, Chinese- Russian relations have maintained a healthy momentum of development in the face of global turbulence and change,” he is reported to have said, according to a Chinese summary. “China is willing to promote the steady advancement of practical cooperation,” Mr Xi said.
This development must be seen against the backdrop of Moscow’s resolve to increase defence spend- ing by 20 per cent, according to the Military-Industrial Commission that reports directly to President Putin. The increase envisages that Russia’s budget will rise to 700 billion roubles ($ 9.9 billion) this year, compared with 2021. The Russian government funding is allowing the country’s defence industrial base to be slowly mobilized to meet the demands placed on it by the war in Ukraine. However, the industry could struggle to meet many of these requirements, partially due to the fallout of sanctions and lack of expertise. Given the acute crisis over grain, Russia on Wednesday offered “safe passage” for Ukrainian grain shipments from the country’s Baltic Sea ports, while insisting that it was not responsible for establishing the corridors. Turkey has suggested that ships could be guided around sea mines. Ukrainian grain shipments have stalled since Russia’s invasion and the blockade of ports, stoking global prices for grains, cooking oil, fuel and fertilizer. The United Nations is trying to broker a deal to resume Ukraine grain exports together with Russian food and fertilizer exports, which Moscow says are banned by sanctions. “We are not establishing safe corridors. We said we could provide safe passage if these corridors are established,” Russia’s UN ambassador, Vasily Nebenzia, said.