Why Xi Jinping won’t ride to Putin’s rescue at first meeting since Ukraine war began

Vladimir Putin is unlikely to gain desperately-needed military support from Xi Jinping on Thursday when the leaders of Russia and China meet for the first time since the war in Ukraine began.

The two presidents will gather at a summit of Asia’s strongmen leaders for a rare in-person meeting, just as Mr Putin’s forces suffer staggering losses in Ukraine.

But analysts say the meeting will not see Mr Xi, who is leaving China for the first time since the pandemic began, agree to break a pledge not to send much-needed weapons to its increasingly desperate ally.

The ancient Silk Road desert city of Samarkand in Uzbekistan was this week ordered into a security lockdown for the leaders.

Schools and countless public offices closed for three-day holidays, the airport was shut down and train tickets to Samarkand can be purchased – so long as your name is on the list.

Mr Xi and Mr Putin will greet each other at the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) in Samarkand, a gathering of Asia’s strongmen leaders referred to as the “Dictators’ Club”. The alliance could in theory counter Nato, but it lacks the same security guarantees, and so is often dismissed as largely irrelevant.

Putin and Xi pledged friendship with ‘no limits’

Mr Putin and Mr Xi last saw each other a few weeks before the invasion of Ukraine when both pledged a friendship with “no limits”. But the direction of the war in Ukraine has shown that the Kremlin overestimated Beijing’s support for Moscow.

“The Russians are now fully aware that a friendship with no limits as has been proclaimed is really a friendship without benefits,” Mark Galeotti, an author on Russia and director of Mayak Intelligence consultancy, told The Telegraph.

“The Chinese are not going to do anything to help the Russians at their own expense.”

China did not explicitly back, nor did it condemn, Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but instead used it as a chance to slam the West for unleashing an economic war on Russia and stoking tensions.

Beijing did make it clear from the start that arms sales or any material support for the war effort is completely off limits. And this is unlikely to have changed.

If anything, China may be more reluctant than ever to lend a hand.

The shock of economic pain inflicted by the West on Russia – from severing transport links and switching off Russians’ Visa and MasterCard bank cards to freezing the Russian Central Bank’s foreign-held assets – was a cautionary tale for China.

It showed how easy it can be to become a complete pariah like the Kremlin if you decide all of a sudden to invade a neighbouring country.

Chinese companies, from banks to technology firms, have been treating Russia as a toxic destination for business, wary of getting penalised for skirting Western sanctions.

Even Russia’s hopes that China’s technology companies like Huawei can easily replace Western imports quickly evaporated.

Russia risks becoming China’s junior partner

China’s technology giant early on in the war shut down its Moscow office and made it clear it was not going to sell Russia even smart phones. Selling microchips that the Russian military badly needs for its high-tech weapons is completely out of the question.

A Kremlin aide on Tuesday said Moscow claimed that China “clearly understands the reasons that forced Russia to launch its special military operation”.

And China’s top diplomat said on Tuesday it was willing to work with Russia to take the global order “in a more just and reasonable direction”.

But in reality Russia’s disastrous war in Ukraine, which has already cost it thousands of lives, an international reputation and hundreds of millions in foreign currency, risks turning Russia into China’s junior partner in Central Asia.

Mr Xi has chosen a summit of the SCO in Samarkand for his first trip abroad since before the Covid pandemic.

He is finally leaving China just a month before he is expected to receive his third term as the leader of China’s Communist Party, which could make China’s longest-serving communist leader since Mao Zedong.

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