Countercurents | December 17, 2021
Presidents Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping agreed in a video call on Wednesday: Russia and China should stand firm in rejecting Western interference and defending each other’s security interests.
The two presidents’ conversation, eight days after Putin spoke to U.S. President Joe Biden in a similar format, underscored how U.S.-Europe hostility to Russia and China is bringing the two powerful countries closer together.
Under The Guise of ‘Democracy’ And ‘Human Rights’
“At present, certain international forces under the guise of ‘democracy’ and ‘human rights’ are interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia, and brutally trampling on international law and recognized norms of international relations,” China’s state-run Xinhua news agency quoted Xi as saying.
“China and Russia should increase their joint efforts to more effectively safeguard the security interests of both parties.”
Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov told reporters that Xi had offered support to Putin for his push to obtain binding security guarantees for Russia from the West, saying he understood Moscow’s concerns.
He said the pair also expressed their “negative view” of the creation of new military alliances such as the AUKUS partnership between Australia, Britain and the U.S. and the Indo-Pacific “Quad” of Australia, India, Japan and the United States.
The call highlighted the ways in which Russia and China are drawing on each other for mutual support at a time of high tension in their relations with the West. China is under pressure over human rights and Russia is accused of threatening behavior towards Ukraine.
The Kremlin said Putin briefed Xi on his conversation with Biden, in which the U.S. president warned Russia against invading Ukraine — which Moscow denies it is planning — and Putin set out his demand for security pledges.
New Model Of Cooperation
“A new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based, among other things, on such principles as non-interference in internal affairs and respect for each other’s interests,” Putin told Xi.
He said he looked forward to meeting Xi at the Winter Olympics in Beijing in February – an event that the White House last week said U.S. government officials would boycott because of China’s human rights “atrocities” against Muslims in its western region of Xinjiang.
“I would like to note that we invariably support each other on issues of international sports cooperation, including rejection of any attempts to politicize sports and the Olympic movement,” Putin said.
Putin has used Russia’s partnership with China as a way of balancing U.S. influence while striking lucrative deals, especially on energy. He and Xi this year agreed to extend a 20-year friendship and cooperation treaty.
The Russian leader said bilateral trade was up 31% in the first 11 months of this year to $123 billion, and the two countries aimed to exceed $200 billion in the near future.
He said China was becoming an international centre for production of Russia’s Sputnik and Sputnik Light vaccines against COVID-19, with contracts signed with six manufacturers to make more than 150 million doses.
Xi thanked Putin for maintaining strong ties between the two nations despite pressure from the U.S. and its partners in Europe.
Xi remarked that “the world has entered a period of turbulence and great change. Sino-Russian relations, having withstood all kinds of tests, have shown strong vitality and gained new breath.”
The Chinese leader expressed his gratitude to Putin for not allowing the West to “drive a wedge” between Moscow and Beijing.
During opening remarks, the Russian leader hailed the ties between the world’s largest country and its most populous, proclaiming that “a new model of cooperation has been formed between our nations, based, among other things, on foundations such as non-interference in internal affairs and respect for each other’s interests and a determination to turn the common border into a belt of eternal peace and good neighborliness.”
Independent Financial Infrastructure
The talks between the two presidents came amid strained relations with Washington and several of its partners across the world.
Ushakov said on the same day that Xi and Putin paid particular attention “to the need to intensify efforts to form an independent financial infrastructure to service trade operations between Russia and China” – one that “cannot be influenced by third countries.”
Earlier this month, U.S. Under Secretary of State Victoria Nuland said that the White House, alongside a handful of Western European nations, was considering completely blocking Moscow out of the global financial system should Russian troops stage an invasion of Ukraine.
Her remarks came just one day after American outlet Bloomberg had hinted that Washington could target the country’s major banks and even disconnect Moscow from the SWIFT network.
Speculation has also swirled in the West that Beijing could order a military operation to seize Taiwan, which it views as an inalienable part of its territory. In early December, US Assistant Defense Secretary for Indo-Pacific Security Affairs Ely Ratner sounded the alarm, accusing China’s army of “likely preparing for a contingency to unify” the island with the mainland by force. China has frequently condemned Washington’s close ties with Taipei as interference in its sovereign affairs.
NATO Will Not Expand: Putin demands Guarantee
Putin has demanded guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy troops and weapons there.
He told Xi about “mounting threats to Russia’s national interests from the U.S. and the NATO bloc, which consistently move their military infrastructure close to the Russian borders,” said Ushakov, said.
The Russian leader stressed the need to hold talks with NATO and the U.S. on legally binding security guarantees, according to Ushakov.
Xi responded by saying he “understands Russia’s concerns and fully supports our initiative to work out these security guarantees for Russia,” Ushakov said.
He said Moscow’s proposals have been passed on to U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs Karen Donfried, who visited Moscow on Wednesday and met with Russia’s deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov.
In recent years, China and Russia have increasingly aligned their foreign policies to counter U.S. domination of the international economic and political order. Both have faced sanctions. Russia’s relations with the U.S. sank to post-Cold War lows.
Moscow has denied that it plans to attack Ukraine and in turn blamed Ukraine for its own military buildup in the country’s war-torn east. Russian officials alleged that Kyiv might try to reclaim the areas controlled by the rebels.
It is within that context that Putin has pressed the West for guarantees that NATO will not expand to Ukraine or deploy its forces there.
Need To Carry Out More Joint Actions
Chinese state broadcaster CCTV reported that Xi said “both China and Russia need to carry out more joint actions to more effectively safeguard our security and interests.”
“At present, certain international forces are arbitrarily interfering in the internal affairs of China and Russia under the guise of democracy and human rights, and brutally trampling on international law and the norms of international relations,” Xi was quoted by CCTV as saying.
China’s Foreign Ministry issued a statement saying Xi told Putin he “very much looks forward to this ‘get together at the Winter Olympics’ and stands ready to work with President Putin ‘for a shared future’ to jointly open a new chapter in post-COVID China-Russia relations.”
U.S. To Share Moscow’s Security Proposals With Allies Amid Standoff
An earlier Reuters report said:
The U.S. said it would share Russia’s proposals for European security with its allies and partners after Moscow handed them over at talks with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State Karen Donfried in the Russian capital on Wednesday.
The U.S. diplomat arrived at a time of soaring East-West tensions over a build-up of Russian troops near Ukraine. Western countries have warned Russia may be about to launch a new attack on Ukraine, something Moscow has denied.
Russia wants the U.S. and NATO to offer legally binding security guarantees that the Western military alliance will not expand further eastwards or deploy certain weapons systems in Ukraine and other countries that border Russia.
“American representatives were literally today handed concrete proposals in our Foreign Ministry that are aimed at developing legal security guarantees for Russia,” Ushakov told reporters.
“We are ready to start negotiations on this crucial issue immediately,” Ushakov said.
Donfried met Deputy Foreign Minister Ryabkov for brief talks in the ministry on Wednesday and later held separate talks with Dmitry Kozak, Putin’s point person on Ukraine.
“Ryabkov asked to meet with me to share Moscow’s proposals on European security. I will take these ideas back to Washington and also share them with our allies and partners,” Donfried said in a video posted by the U.S. embassy to Moscow on Twitter.
Donfried travelled to Moscow after holding talks with top Ukrainian officials to offer support in the face of the Russian troop build-up.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said a senior Russian envoy stood ready to immediately depart for talks in a neutral country on the proposal.
Peskov told reporters that Russian President Vladimir Putin may have another call with U.S. President Joe Biden before the year’s end to discuss the security issue, but he said it hasn’t been agreed to yet.
Ushakov, discussed the Russian drafts with U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan during a call Wednesday, and that Moscow was ready to start negotiations.
Similar To The 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis
Speaking last week, Ryabkov warned that the failure to stem mounting Russia-West tensions could push them to a showdown similar to the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis that put the world on the verge of a nuclear war.
A European Union summit on Thursday was set to focus on avoiding a Russian military invasion in Ukraine with threats of unprecedented sanctions for Moscow and the promise of diplomatic talks.