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Putin Welcomes China’s Defense Minister to Moscow

Russian leader Vladimir Putin welcomed Chinese Defense Minister Li Shangfu to Moscow on Sunday for a four-day visit meant to “deepen” cooperation between the militaries of the two nations and to execute on deals Putin signed when dictator Xi Jinping visited a month ago.

Li – a Chinese official under U.S. sanctions – is China’s top defense official and responsible for the development of the nation’s armed forces, the People’s Liberation Army (PLA). His presence in Russia follows a tremendous increase in bilateral activities, including a trade room, growing numbers of joint military exercises, and Beijing’s public interest in involving itself in the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine as a mediator. China is also facing accusations of shipping weapons to Russia for use in Ukraine, which Beijing has denied.

Moscow has shown tepid, at best, interest in Chinese involvement in Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, however, has repeatedly requested to speak to Xi and for “Chinese businesses” to aid in the reconstruction of parts of Ukraine destroyed by the invasion. Xi and the Chinese Communist Party generally have ignored Zelensky.

According to a transcript published by the Kremlin on Sunday, Putin, accompanied by Russian Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu, welcomed Li to Moscow for the purposes of improving “military-to-military cooperation.”

“Our two countries have maintained positive momentum in expanding our economic, social, cultural and educational ties,” Putin reportedly said. “We have also been proactive in our military-to-military relations by regularly sharing actionable insights and cooperating on defence matters. We also hold joint military exercises in various theatres of operation, including in the Far East, Europe, at sea, on land, as well as in the air.”

“I do believe that this constitutes a major track for strengthening the trust-based strategic relationship between the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China,” the Russian leader asserted.

Li reportedly responded by noting that Sunday marked the Orthodox celebration of Easter, making it a “great honor” for Putin to make the time for a visiting Chinese official. Similarly, Li noted that his visit to Russia was his first since being promoted to the defense minister position, marking Russia’s importance as an ally to Beijing.

“As of late, military and military-technical cooperation between Russia and China is developing very well. This is making a major contribution to maintaining global and regional security,” the Kremlin translated Li as saying, noting that his primary objective in Moscow was to follow through on agreements that Putin had signed with Xi during the latter’s time in Russia last month.

“Relations between our armed forces are growing stronger with every passing day,” Li said. “We are standing shoulder to shoulder and working to improve the wellbeing of our peoples.”

Li ominously noted that Russia and China must navigate “the most profound changes of the past 100 years,” particularly economically, creating a “tremendous responsibility.” He emphasized optimism that the “new era” in Russian-Chinese ties would ensure prosperity for both leaderships.

The Chinese government, through its Xinhua News Agency, highlighted the importance of “consolidating” the “military mutual trust” between Russia and China during Li’s visit.

“China is willing to work with Russia to fully implement the consensus reached by the two heads of state, further strengthen the strategic communication between the two militaries,” Xinhua paraphrased Li as saying, “and bolster multilateral coordination and cooperation so as to make new contributions to safeguarding global and regional security and stability.”

Similarly, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin described following through on Xi’s deals as the priority for Li’s visit to Moscow.

“China is ready to work with Russia to fully implement the important agreements that were reached by the two countries’ leaders, and facilitate our comprehensive strategic partnership and coordination between the two nations in a new era,” Wang told reporters during his daily briefing on Monday.

Arriving in Moscow in late March, Xi asserted that China was ready to “stand guard over the world order based on international law” alongside Russia, which has been engaging in the invasion and colonization of a neighboring country for nearly a decade. Putin was more forward during that meeting in attacking the “collective West” for its alleged “archaic dogmas,” declaring, “the architecture of international security and cooperation is being dismantled.”

Following Xi’s visit to Russia in March, the Chinese Defense Ministry had emphasized the potential for more joint exercises and “enhanced” cooperation between their armed forces. A ministry spokesman said in late March that China was interested in “diversified maritime military missions,” potentially meaning a greater Russian presence in the South China Sea, which China illegally claims in its entirety. The Defense Ministry assured the world that joint military cooperation between Russia and China would not be directed against America or the West generally, but instead by based on “the principles of non-alliance, non-confrontation, and non-targeting of third parties.”

The statements and reports out of both countries this week did not mention specific issues of military importance, notably omitting any details about Ukraine. The Global Times, a Chinese government propaganda newspaper, cited regime-approved “analysts” insisting that managing joint military exercises and cooperating on development was the main goal of the visit.

“The China-Russia joint military drills and defense cooperation are not linked to the Russia-Ukraine conflict, and their goal is to safeguard peace and stability, analysts said,” the Times asserted. One of those analysts did concede the necessity for the two countries to “coordinate positions over major international and regional issues,” presumably including Ukraine.

China has attempted repeatedly to mediate from afar between Russia and Ukraine, most prominently publishing an alleged “peace plan” for Ukraine with vague steps such as “cease hostilities” and “calm down as soon as possible.” Both Russia and Ukraine have mostly ignored the peace plan document but offered a vague interest in China playing some sort of role in resolving the war. Last week, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said China had “impressive potential for mediation,” but dismissed any imminent “prospects for a peaceful settlement,” blaming Ukraine’s supposed intransigence.

On Monday, following Putin’s welcome, the Russian news agency Tass reported that Li met with with the heads of the General Staff Military Academy of the Russian Armed Forces to discuss how Russia trains its military leaders.

“The guests got acquainted with the structure of the military higher educational institution, the educational process and the specifics of training personnel from foreign states. The Chinese delegation also visited the Academy’s museum,” according to the Russian Defense Ministry.


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