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Russia and China keep the West guessing

China wants to broker a Ukraine peace deal that doesn’t hurt Russia

China’s President Xi Jinping and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin attend the opening ceremony of the third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing on Oct. 18, 2023.

Pedro Pardo | Afp | Getty Images

Russia’s close relationship with superpower China is under close scrutiny as Russian President Vladimir Putin meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping on Thursday.

As both countries’ ties with the West become fractured amid the war in Ukraine and global trade disputes, the latest meeting between is being closely followed for signs that the leaders will deepen their own economic, military and geopolitical cooperation.

Ahead of the two-day meeting, Putin told Chinese state media that “Russia-China relations have reached an all-time high, and even in the face of severe international situations, relations between the two countries continue to strengthen,” news agency Xinhua reported.

The Russia-China relationship is “inescapable,” Sam Greene, director of the Democratic Resilience Program at the Center for European Policy Analysis (CEPA), told CNBC.

“It would be probably too much to call them strategic partners, but they are strategically aligned in a lot of respects, maybe not entirely within their own making and maybe not entirely to their own liking, but inevitably as a result of decisions they’ve made and decisions that Western governments have made that really have pushed them together,” Greene said Wednesday.

“Neither Putin nor Xi can achieve what they want to achieve, both domestically and internationally, without the support of the other. Having said that, it’s not symmetrical and China has many, many more options and much, much more flexibility than Russia does,” he added.

‘Not an alliance’ or ‘marriage of convenience’

Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s President Xi Jinping leave after a reception following their talks at the Kremlin in Moscow on March 21, 2023.

Pavel Byrkin | Afp | Getty Images

Putin and Xi have made much of a close friendship that they’ve formed over their respective 24 and 11 years in power, but analysts stress that the relationship is more nuanced than meets the eye.

“Essentially, it’s not an alliance — it’s a very multifaceted, multi dimensional relationship that’s been building and evolving for about 30 years now,” Natasha Kuhrt, senior lecturer in War Studies at King’s College London, told CNBC Wednesday.

“It can seem as if the only basis for the relationship is animosity…

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