Russia-China, what Putin wants and what Xi offers: the scenario

Tafuro (Ispi): “Putin wants weapons and money, Xi is reluctant. And Kiev needs China”

“At the moment Russia needs economic and military support as well as political support. It needs money and weapons, but China is a bit reluctant” because “it is afraid of secondary sanctions, it fears that its own companies will be sanctioned for providing military technologies to Russia”. And “I don’t think massive direct support will come” to the Kremlin from the Asian giant which at the same time is “very important” for Kiev “for any economic support in reconstruction”. This is how Eleonora Tafuro Ambrosetti, senior researcher at the Russia, Caucasus and Central Asia Observatory at ISPI talks to Adnkronos while Chinese leader Xi Jinping is in Moscow for the second day of talks with Vladimir Putin and while the Japanese premier Fumio Kishida. More than a year ago, before the start of the war in Ukraine, the Chinese leader and the head of the Kremlin had consolidated an understanding “without limits” and Tafuro reasons on what appears to be “the only structural limit of the partnership ‘without limits that Xi and Putin say they have”.

She says she is “very pessimistic” when asked if she has any hope of positive developments in the short term to end the conflict in Ukraine, she speaks of “a certain arrogance” with the thought of Putin in Mariupol or the head of the Kremlin who ” mocks the ICC arrest warrant”. “We see no glimmers for a more flexible position – he says – I see that both Russia and Ukraine are increasingly firm in their positions, increasingly sure that victory will happen on the battlefield and therefore that negotiation is impossible at the moment “.

And, he continues, “I frankly don’t believe that China has either the desire or the ability to impose itself on Russia”. “There is a desire for China to take a strong stand, not with peace plans like the ones we have seen – he observes – but China cannot do it, for now it is not doing it”. Rather, according to the expert, “a little behind-the-scenes Chinese activity is possible, perhaps an activity of persuasion towards Moscow” for the end “as soon as possible” of this conflict precisely “because in any case on the Chinese side there is no interest in amplifying military support for Russia.”

Tafuro speaks of the “fragile foundations” of the Chinese initiative in February which does nothing but “reiterate its requests and the ambiguity of its position”, but at the same time underlines how Kiev has not “condemned that decidedly pro-Russian peace plan” . It did not, according to the expert, because China “is the only state to date” which could “have an influence on Putin’s Russia at a political and economic level” and because Beijing “could be a key player in the ‘scope of reconstruction’ of Ukraine. “Kiev doesn’t want to ruin relations with China,” she says.

The expert highlights the “very strong symbolic value” that Xi’s visit to Moscow has for the Russians because, she remarks, “in the aftermath of the ICC’s arrest warrant for Putin, it is essential to show that he is not exactly isolated, that one of the major international leaders travels to Moscow in person and is ready to offer his support at least rhetorically for the regime”. And, she adds, “from the point of view of Russia’s image, especially in terms of internal public opinion, this visit is enormously important”.

And there are the economic implications. “From the Russian point of view – he says – one of the most coveted things is energy agreements”. Moscow hopes for “progress” with regard to the ‘Power of Siberia 2’ gas pipeline, to supply gas to China, a “fundamental infrastructure for making the transition to the east that Moscow has been thinking of establishing for years now”. For Russia, there is also the issue of “replacing Western electronic and high-tech supplies with Chinese ones”. China, continues the expert, “is already becoming a bit of an alternative source for many goods, such as cars for example” after the sector in Russia “was brought to its knees by Western sanctions”.

Sanctions decided as a war continues which in February last year “began as essentially Putin’s war” and which “has evolved, also thanks to the Kremlin’s propaganda machine, becoming more and more – observes Tafuro – a war of the Russians” . Both because among the Russians there are those who have “simply adapted by now to this new state of affairs”, and because there are others who “have lost someone or have some relatives mobilized” and for whom by now “it has also become the their war”. And there are also “people within the political and economic elites who see their destiny, their role linked to that of Putin”.

If the head of the Kremlin “manages to bring home an overall positive result after this war, it is probable – he points out – that he will continue to be the well-liked leader supported by the internal population”. But, he concludes, “it is still too early to say whether Putin will be affected at a political level” by what has been happening for over a year and “it is clear that Russia is not a liberal democracy in which the weight of public opinion directly affects the electoral result and there There are many other factors to consider.”