Putin sticks to protocol during Chinese leader’s visit

Standard Russian protocol for visiting dignitaries calls for them to be met at the airport by a lower-ranking cabinet official.

Many observers argue that the fighting in Ukraine has made Russia increasingly dependent on Chinese support as the country isolates itself from the West.

But Putin did not deviate from the script, and the beginning of Xi’s trip was like that of any visiting leader.

In this still from video provided by RU-24, Chinese President Xi Jinping stands during an official welcome ceremony upon his arrival at the Vnukovo-2 government airport outside Moscow.
Chinese President Xi Jinping receives an official welcome upon his arrival at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport (RU-24/AP)

The Russian president sent Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Chernyshenko to the capital’s Vnukovo airport to meet Xi after he got off his Boeing 747.

Meanwhile, Putin was away in central Moscow, busy with other commitments before his high-stakes dinner with the Chinese leader that evening.

He began his day by appearing at a meeting of senior Home Office officials and also addressed a parliamentary conference involving politicians from African nations.

At the airport, Xi listened as a Russian military band played the Chinese and Russian national anthems. He then walked past a line of honorary guards accompanied by Chernyshenko.

While Putin did not break protocol and pampered Xi with a surprise appearance at the airport, the Russian leader heaped praise on his Chinese guest in an article published in China’s People’s Daily newspaper.

He described Mr. Xi’s visit as a “historic event” and said it offers a “great opportunity to meet my good old friend with whom we enjoy the warmest relationship.”

He also wrote in detail about their first meeting in 2010, adding that he and Xi have met about 40 times, quoting a line from the Chinese philosopher Confucius: “Isn’t it a pleasure to have friends who come from far away?”

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Chinese President Xi Jinping’s motorcade leaves Vnukovo airport on the outskirts of Moscow (AP)

Xi’s visit provides a major political boost for Putin just days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for the Russian leader on charges of alleged involvement in the abductions of thousands of Ukrainian children.

Moscow, which does not recognize the court’s jurisdiction, dismissed the move as “legally null and void” but further increased pressure on the Russian leader.

After the private dinner on Monday, Putin and Xi will hold official talks on Tuesday that will also be attended by senior officials from both countries. They are expected to issue conclusive statements after the negotiations.

Analysts say Western sanctions have made Russia increasingly dependent on China.

“This relationship is becoming more asymmetrical: China has much more influence,” said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment who has long studied Russia-China relations.

He noted that Xi could be expected to maintain strong support for Putin amid mounting Western pressure.

“The reality is that China does not see any advantage in getting rid of Vladimir Putin, because there will be no incentives or points gained in the relationship with the United States,” he said.

A television screen shows Chinese President Xi Jinping attending an official welcome ceremony upon arrival at the Vnukovo-2 government airport outside Moscow, at a cafe in Saint Petersburg, Russia.
A television screen in a St. Petersburg cafe shows the arrival of Chinese President Xi Jinping in Russia (AP)

While most observers say Beijing is unlikely to offer military assistance to Moscow as the United States and other Western allies fear, the alliance with Beijing would allow the Russian leader to run his course in Ukraine.

“This helps Russia remain defiant in the face of Western sanctions,” Chris Weafer, chief executive officer and Russian economy analyst at consultancy Macro-Advisory, tweeted.

“As long as Russia can trade with China and other Asian states, there is no danger of running out of money or being forced to concede on the battlefield.”


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