On the day of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s unexpected visit to Washington – to meet Joe Biden at the White House and speak before a joint session of Congress – there was another unexpected appointment. On the other side of the ocean, Dmitry Medvedev was received, upon invitation, by Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing.
The war in Ukraine at the center of the meeting
Medvedev’s visit to the Asian giant is part of the desire to strengthen relations between Moscow and Beijing and thus respond to the setback in relations that the Kremlin had difficulty maintaining with the West before the invasion of Ukraine. While conveying greetings from Russian President Vladimir Putin to his Chinese counterpart, Medvedev, current deputy chairman of the Russian Security Council, also conveyed a message of praise for strategic cooperation between Moscow and Beijing.
Xi returned greetings from his Russian counterpart and expressed his hope for continued exchanges between China and Russia, underlining Beijing’s commitment to the advancement of bilateral relations and China’s willingness to work with Russia on developing “reasonable fairer” global governance.
A veiled reference to the war in Ukraine, the theme of which was at the center of the meeting between Xi and Medvedev. During the meeting, Xi reportedly pushed for peace talks between Moscow and Kiev, saying he hoped “interested parties” could “conduct comprehensive talks”. On China’s side, there is hope that all parties involved in the conflict in Ukraine “will exercise restraint, conduct a comprehensive dialogue and resolve common security concerns through political means”. President Xi said China has always decided its stance and policy “on the merits of the matter itself, upholding an objective and fair position and promoting peace talks.”
A new gas field to increase exports to China
With the war in Ukraine and the gradual reduction of Russian gas imports, Moscow was forced to look for new buyers, looking towards East Asia. Russian President Putin today inaugurated the Kovykta gas field, located in Siberia, which should make it possible to increase exports to China in the midst of the crisis between Moscow and the West. The Kovykta field, the largest in eastern Siberia, will flow into the ‘Power of Siberia’, which transports Russian gas to China.
Russian gas supplies to the Asian giant increased by 173% in the first ten months of 2022, compared to the same period of the previous year. Russia began selling gas to China in late 2019 via the Power of Siberia pipeline, which delivered about 10 billion cubic meters of gas in 2021 and is expected to reach its full capacity of 38 cubic meters in 2025.
Last February, before the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Putin signed an agreement with Xi to sell 10 billion cubic meters of gas to China and ensure the completion of work on the new gas pipeline, the Power of Siberia 2, the pipeline that will transport 50 billion cubic meters of gas per year. The Kremlin leader wants to up the ante: the two pipelines will allow Russia to increase its gas sales to China to 48 bcm a year by 2025 and to 88 bcm by 2030.
Beijing’s escape from Western sanctions
Since the outbreak of war in Ukraine, Beijing has always shunned Moscow, instead condemning NATO’s eastward expansion. But something has changed in recent months. During the G20 summit in Indonesia, China signed a joint communiqué in which “most members strongly condemn the war in Ukraine”. However, Beijing still does not define the Russian offensive in Ukraine as war, reinforcing Putin’s idea of seeing Xi as an ally in an anti-Western coalition.
With the isolation of the West, Russia has turned its gaze towards the neighboring Asian giant. Moscow is trying to build closer economic, political and security ties with Beijing to fill the vacuum left by Western countries. However, the Asian giant raises the barricades to avoid being hit by Western sanctions too. The Chinese giant Huawei, from 1 January, will dissolve the “Enterprise Business Group” division based in Russia, transferring 2,000 employees to offices in other countries. The offices present on Russian territory, in Moscow as well as in St. Petersburg, Nizhny Novgorod and Novosibirsk, will continue to work on 5G, computer vision and virtual reality projects and will remain operational until the war is over. The choice of Huawei, writes the Russian newspaper Kommersant, is part of the Chinese need to align itself with Western sanctions against the Kremlin.