The two leaders met for the first time since the invasion at a regional summit in Uzbekistan, days after Russia suffered its worst military setback in Ukraine in months.
In their meeting, Putin said he understood Beijing’s “concerns” regarding the situation in Ukraine but added that he would explain Moscow’s “approach” to Xi, Russian state media reported.
The two authoritarian leaders have emerged as close partners in recent years, propelled by growing conflict with the West and a strong personal bond.
China has offered tacit support for Russia over Ukraine, while Moscow has backed Beijing and criticized Washington over US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taipei in August. Beijing responded to her trip with unprecedented military drills around the self-governing democratic island, which it claims as its own territory.
In their meeting Thursday, Putin also condemned the United States for what he said were “provocations” in the Taiwan Strait, and criticized what he claimed were attempts to “create a unipolar world.” Those attempts, he said, have “recently taken an ugly shape and are absolutely unacceptable to most states on the planet.”
The two are holding talks on the sidelines of a summit of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, a regional security-focused grouping that also includes India, Pakistan and four Central Asian nations.
In a symbolic show of force and unity, Russian and Chinese navies conducted joint patrols and exercises in the Pacific Ocean just hours before their leaders’ meeting, according to Russia’s Ministry of Defense.
The meeting comes at a potentially consequential moment in Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, as Russian troops retreat en mass, having lost more territory in a week than they captured in five months.
China has so far refused to condemn Russia’s invasion of Ukraine while stepping up economic assistance to its neighbor, boosting bilateral trade to record levels in a boon to Russian business amid Western sanctions.
In a statement released by the Kremlin, Thursday, Putin said: “The foreign policy tandem of Moscow and Beijing plays a key role in ensuring global and regional stability. We jointly stand for the formation of a just, democratic and multipolar world order based on international rules and the central role of the UN.”
Putin is one of only a handful of world leaders that Xi has met with face-to-face since early 2020. The Russian leader traveled to Beijing for its Winter Olympics in February this year, and was seen as the most prominent world leader to join the event. A number of Western nations declared a diplomatic boycott, citing China’s human rights record.
It was at that meeting that the two leaders framed their “no-limits’ partnership, and released a 5,000-word document voicing their shared opposition to the “further enlargement of NATO.”
For Xi, meanwhile, Thursday’s meeting comes as part of his first trip outside of China’s borders in more than two years, and just weeks before he seeks to secure a norm-breaking third term at a major political meeting in Beijing — a move that will cement his status as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
China has turned increasingly inward since the beginning of the pandemic. Xi’s trip to Central Asia is a return to the world stage and offers him an opportunity to show that despite growing tensions with the West, China still has friends and partners and is ready to reassert its global influence.
On his first stop, Xi visited Kazakhstan, where he unveiled in 2013 his flagship Belt and Road Initiative, a massive infrastructure project that stretches from East Asia to Europe.
In a meeting with Kazakh President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev on Wednesday, Xi said China would like to partner with Kazakhstan to “remain pioneers in Belt and Road cooperation.”
Xi also told Tokayev that “China will always support Kazakhstan in maintaining national independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity,” Chinese state media reported.
The Chinese leader traveled to Uzbekistan on Wednesday evening and met with Uzbek President Shavkat Mirziyoyev. He also met the presidents of Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Turkmenistan Thursday.