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Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s paramount leader Xi Jinping met on Thursday for the second time in seven months.

The visit was high on symbolism, visually affirming the “no limits” partnership between the two Eurasian powers and their efforts to “counter” what they claim is Washington’s “dual containment” strategy.

The China visit helped Putin look less isolated. The Russian leader has restricted his global travel since the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him in March 2023.

Uncertain Results

But at this point, it’s unclear what tangible results came out of the visit. China — U.S. officials say — has aided Russia’s war in Ukraine, for example, with geospatial intelligence as well as machine tools and microelectronics. But there are real limits to the relationship, which has tilted heavily in favor of Beijing as a result of Western sanctions.

China, for example, appears to continue to balk at the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline that would send Russian natural gas to China via Mongolia and help Moscow make up for lost sales to European customers.

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What to Watch Out For

  • Will China attend the Ukraine peace talks scheduled for June in Switzerland? Beijing hasn’t yet committed. Moscow hasn’t been invited. After Putin’s visit this week, China could provide the organizers with a clear response: “no.”
  • As Russia makes gains near Kharkhiv, NATO countries say they are considering sending trainers to Ukraine. Talking about an increase in non-combat NATO forces in Ukraine is one thing, but doing it is another. It’s laden with risk. Yet it’s worth keeping an eye out on whether China views the talk and action from Europe as escalatory and how that impacts its support for Russia in Ukraine, perhaps making it more overt. China’s aim is to prevent a Russian defeat — not necessarily to produce an actual Russian victory.

Arif Rafiq is the editor of Globely News. Rafiq has contributed commentary and analysis on global issues for publications such as Foreign Affairs, Foreign Policy, the New Republic, the New York Times, and POLITICO Magazine.

He has appeared on numerous broadcast outlets, including Al Jazeera English, the BBC World Service, CNN International, and National Public Radio.

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