MOSCOW (BLOOMBERG) – Russia and China gave alternative accounts of President Xi Jinping’s birthday call with Mr Vladimir Putin, as both sides seek to manage perceptions of their relationship in the wake of Moscow’s war in Ukraine.
The Kremlin readout said the two men, both 69, discussed increasing economic cooperation, trade and military-technical ties between China and Russia on Wednesday (June 15).
Moscow’s version also implied the Chinese leader endorsed Mr Putin’s justification for invading Ukraine, saying Mr Xi noted the “legitimacy of Russia’s actions in protecting its fundamental national interests in the face of security challenges created by external forces”.
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV, by contrast, said Mr Xi “actively promoted world peace and the stability of the global economic order” during the call.
He pushed all parties to find “a proper settlement to the Ukraine crisis in a responsible manner”, the report added, making no mention of military ties or increasing trade links.
Mr Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow and chair of the Russia in Asia-Pacific Programme at the Carnegie Moscow Centre, said the Kremlin’s readout of the call was geared towards a domestic audience.
Mr Putin is trying to project strength at home, after being forced to narrow his war goals to the east by his failure to quickly take Kyiv and other key cities.
China’s version, Mr Gabuev said, was clearly more mindful of the West, where its war response is under great scrutiny.
United States President Joe Biden warned China in March of “implications and consequences” if Beijing backs Moscow over the invasion, either by providing military support or helping it avoid sweeping economic sanctions imposed by the US, the European Union and others.
While there has been no sign of Beijing helping Moscow in either way, it has offered rhetorical support by repeating Russian conspiracy theories – such as the false claim that the US runs weapons bio-labs in Ukraine – and diplomatically through Mr Xi’s continued contact with Mr Putin.
The two men declared a “no limits” friendship in February, weeks before Mr Putin brought war to Ukraine, and they spoke shortly after Russia’s invasion.
In contrast, Mr Xi still has not spoken to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, despite Beijing’s claims of a neutral position in the conflict.