Xi from Putin and the Ukrainian crisis, Sisci: “China fears Russia in pieces”

The sinologist: “Or the arrival of a pro-Western government. Maybe it’s a visit to save Moscow from total humiliation and stop the war before it overwhelms Russia.”

A visit “perhaps to save Russia from total and bitter humiliation” because “what China fears most is that Russia will fall apart or that a pro-Western government will arrive”. Sinologist Francesco Sisci discusses with Adnkronos on Xi Jinping’s visit to Moscow by Vladimir Putin, that Russian president with whom the Chinese leader had consolidated an “unlimited” understanding shortly before the start of the war in Ukraine, more than a year ago. Xi landed in Moscow after Antony Blinken’s missed visit to China, after the ICC’s arrest warrant against Putin and the rapprochement between Saudi Arabia and Iran with Chinese mediation, for what Chinese media describe as a “journey of peace” which should be an opportunity for the Chinese leader to “play a constructive role in promoting peace talks” to put an end to the conflict in Ukraine. “It is possible that Xi will go to Russia now because the Russian offensive has failed and the Ukrainian one has not yet started – says Sisci thinking about the coming months – We know that the Russian offensive has failed, that they have not made any progress, while the “Ukrainian offensive could break through. And then if the Ukrainians for the second time retook parts of the territory that the Russians had taken, naturally the Russian position would become very, very difficult, embarrassing.”

Therefore, he continues, “it is possible that the Chinese have chosen this moment to find a solution that will save Russia from a searing humiliation”. “The problem – Sisci points out – is that Russia is defeated anyway, but if China manages to save a piece of Russia through this mediation, it is a very important result for the People’s Republic because what China fears most is that Russia go to pieces or that a pro-Western government arrives”. And, continues the sinologist, “this mediation seeks to prevent the two scenarios to some extent” and also to “unhook” the Asian giant from “any Russian mistakes” so that in any case it can claim to have “worked for peace” . Beijing, he continues, “intervenes today and not a year ago” because “it realizes that Russia cannot win” and “tries to avoid humiliation even in defeat”, an undertaking “not easy because Russia is very divided and the same is for Ukraine”. And the issue of weapons? According to Sisci, China “is not interested in getting too involved” in the conflict and the priority of the Asian giant “today seems to be to stop the war before it overwhelms Russia”.

‘Beijing tries to avoid Korean War pitfall’

Without forgetting, warns the sinologist, that “just as the first Cold War really began with the Korean War, so the second cold war really began with the war in Ukraine”. “Relations between China and Russia were crucial then and they are still today – he observes – however, mindful I think of that past experience, China does not want to find itself managing an impossible situation like Korea was” and “trying to avoid the trap of the Korean War”.

The Chinese, he continues, “want to present themselves as a mediator”, but presenting themselves as a “neutral mediator is difficult because propaganda in the People’s Republic is pro-Russian and anti-American” and furthermore “Xi is going to Moscow but not to Kiev”, therefore “it is clear ” that it is a “shifted position”. In any case, he remarks, it would be a “positive event if a way could be found to stop the war and avoid this pointless massacre” and if that were to happen there would be “the problem of what comes after, because the Russian question opens up” since “the war held all internal tensions under one cap”.

Meanwhile, rumors about a possible phone call between Xi and the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky after the talks in Moscow continue and, Sisci points out, it would be “also important because Zelensky has given credit to the Chinese plan” unlike “many others in the West who they were skeptical.” Thus, according to the sinologist, a telephone conversation with Zelensky could be “perhaps more important than the meeting with Putin because he would like to say that China is effectively trying to reposition itself and this repositioning could be crucial”.

For many, Xi’s visit to Russia is a clear show of support for an increasingly isolated Kremlin leader. But, concludes Sisci, “if Xi manages to bring anything home, it would be a good result”, even after “the one between Iran and Saudi Arabia”, and one could “think of a more substantial meeting, a summit with Blinken, more solid”.