Beijing is the senior partner in Russia-China relations, reports ISW

22 March, 03:34 PM
Xi and Putin at a state reception in the Kremlin on March 21, 2023 (Photo:Sputnik/Pavel Byrkin/Kremlin via REUTERS)

Xi and Putin at a state reception in the Kremlin on March 21, 2023 (Photo:Sputnik/Pavel Byrkin/Kremlin via REUTERS)

The end of Chinese dictator Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow confirmed that Beijing now dominates Russian-Chinese relations: Russian dictator Vladimir Putin had to take on many more commitments than the Chinese leader had voiced, according to the latest report of the U.S.-based Institute for the Study of War published on March 21.

The Russian dictator probably failed to get the maximum support he expected from the Chinese leader, the analysts believe.

The second day of Xi Jinping's visit to Moscow and his new meetings with Vladimir Putin reinforced the ISW's assumption that the Russian president failed to achieve the no-limits bilateral partnership with China that he had probably hoped for. On March 21, Putin and Xi signed a “Joint Statement by the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China on Deepening Comprehensive Partnership and Strategic Cooperation, Entering a New Era”. It emphasizes that Russian-Chinese relations are comprehensive and strategic and are at their highest level in history. Among other diplomatic pledges, the joint statement outlines a number of bilateral intentions and reaffirms the commitment of both countries to each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity. However, the commitments made by Xi and Putin are markedly unequal, indicating that China is committed to a more restrained version of Russia-China relations than Putin likely desires.

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Xi praised Putin, reaffirmed China's commitment to Russia in the UN Security Council, and emphasized Beijing's position on a political settlement of the war in Ukraine. However, the Chinese leader did not go beyond these statements. Putin, on the contrary, announced a series of measures that indicate Russia's orientation toward and dependence on China in the energy and economic sectors, which looks very one-sided compared to Xi's relative commitments, the ISW believes.

In addition, Xi Jinping has not publicly signaled his intention to support Russia's war in Ukraine, beyond vague diplomatic statements. ISW experts believe that this is less than Putin had hoped to get during the negotiations.

"Putin has likely failed to secure the exact sort of partnership [with China] that he needs and desires, and Xi will likely leave Moscow having secured assurances [from the Kremlin] that are more one-sided than Putin intended them to be," the Institute writes.

They also emphasize that the statements after the talks did not contain the traditional diplomatic wording that the parties had reached final and substantive agreements. Instead, Putin only said that Russia and China had a "very substantiative and candid exchange of views.”

Putin used reports about the provision of Western munitions made with depleted uranium to Ukraine as a pretext to intensify his information campaign aimed at curbing Western aid to Ukraine and putting the responsibility for negotiations on the West. Putin then distorted this information, claiming that the West was beginning to transfer weapons to Ukraine allegedly "with a nuclear component" and emphasized that this allegedly demonstrated the West's reluctance to "peacefully settle" the conflict.

However, regarding the depleted Uranian munitions that the United Kingdom has promised to provide Ukraine, the ISW explains that these anti-tank munitions are less radioactive than natural uranium, due to their high density and therefore additional penetrating effect. This ammunition cannot be used to produce either nuclear or radiological weapons, ISW analysts emphasize. Instead, Putin seeks to portray the provision of depleted uranium munitions as an escalation to deter Western aid — despite the fact that they do not contain any fissile or radiological material.

Putin is preparing to use the period of Russia's presidency of the UN Security Council, which formally begins on April 1, as a weapon in the Kremlin's interests. On March 21, Russia's representative to the UN, Vasily Nebenzya, said that in early April, Russia plans to hold an "informal meeting of the UN Security Council" to discuss the "real situation" with "Ukrainian children taken [illegally deported] to Russia". At the same time, Nebenzya claims that Moscow was allegedly planning such a meeting even before the International Criminal Court issued arrest warrants for Putin and Russian children's ombudswoman Maria Lvova-Belova, because of the ongoing abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia. In addition, during Xi Jinping's visit, Putin made many statements and comments about Russia's alleged commitment to the UN, the UN Security Council, and the UN Charter. Taken together, Nebenzya's and Putin's comments indicate that Russia continues to use its seat in the UN Security Council as a platform for projecting the Russian government's position and is preparing to use it as its own weapon in the coming months, including its veto power.

Meanwhile, the ISW reports that the Wagner mercenary company may soon lose a significant portion of its convict mercenaries, as many of them are about to finish their six-month military contracts. The UK Ministry of Defense has estimated that thousands of prisoners who were recruited in the fall of 2022 could be released and "pardoned" in the coming weeks, given that the Wagner organization appears to be keeping its promises to release convicts after six months of service. This will only exacerbate Wagner's lack of manpower, as the Kremlin has also blocked Prigozhin's ability to recruit additional prisoners.

Other conclusions of ISW analysts from the past day:

  • Russian forces continued limited offensive operations along the Kupyansk-Svatove-Kreminna line;
  • Russian forces did not make any confirmed gains in or around Bakhmut and continued offensive operations along the outskirts of Donetsk City;
  • The Kremlin continues shadow mobilization campaigns to recruit men across Russia for contract service to avoid declaring a second mobilization wave;
  • Russian occupation officials continue to facilitate the abduction of Ukrainian children to Russia;
  • The Russian Federal Security Service (FSB) and the Russian National Guard (Rosgvardia) launched a criminal investigation into the Deputy Commander of the Rosgvardia’s Central District, Major General Vadim Dragomiretsky on suspicion of receiving multimillion-dollar bribes and abuse of office. The ISW speculates that the Kremlin may use the embezzlement charges to remove officials who have fallen out of favor.
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Maps of hostilities: battle for Bakhmut, fighting in Donbas, Zaporizhzhya and Kharkiv oblasts

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