President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday hailed Russia’s “model” relations with China in a call with Chinese leader Xi Jinping and confirmed he would attend Beijing’s Olympics, as both countries face increasing criticism from the West.
The video call came days after G7 foreign ministers discussed Moscow’s sabre-rattling against Ukraine and Beijing’s crackdowns in Hong Kong and Xinjiang.
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“In February we will finally be able to meet in person in Beijing,” Putin said in a national television broadcast of the conversation after he said he would attend the Games, calling Xi his “dear friend”.
The United States, Britain, Canada and Australia are not sending political representatives to the Olympics over China’s abuse of Uyghurs and other mostly Muslim minorities in Xinjiang.
Beijing and Moscow denounced the diplomatic boycott and Putin on Wednesday said both leaders opposed “any attempt to politicise sport and the Olympic movement”, a criticism Russia has repeatedly levelled at the West.
Russia was found to have used a state-backed doping programme at the 2014 Winter Games in Sochi and was banned from international competitions afterwards.
Russian athletes are allowed to compete as neutrals — without the Russian flag or anthem — if they can prove their doping record is clean.
Russian officials including Putin are banned from attending international competitions unless invited by the head of state of the host country. Xi has invited Putin to attend.
Both China and Russia have seen their relationship with Western nations deteriorate in recent years and have sought to project a more unified front.
On Wednesday, Putin told Xi that “a new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries” that includes a “determination to turn our common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighbourliness”.
“I consider these relations to be a real model for inter-state cooperation in the 21st century,” the Russian leader said.
– ‘Unprecedented’ relations –
After the call, the Kremlin’s top foreign policy adviser Yury Ushakov said that the conversation between “two great friendly states” had lasted 90 minutes and was “very positive”.
“Both stated that the relationship had reached an unprecedented high level,” he told reporters.
The talks came after both Russia and China were pointedly left out of US President Joe Biden’s democracy summit last week.
The US and its allies have for weeks accused Russia of planning an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour Ukraine, warning of massive coordinated sanctions should Putin launch an attack.
Tens of thousands of Russian troops are stationed near Ukraine, where the West has accused the Kremlin of backing pro-Moscow separatists since 2014.
Russia rejects the allegations and blames the West for stoking tensions.
In calls on Tuesday with the leaders of France and Finland, Putin said he wanted security talks with the United States and NATO to begin without delay.
Russia’s demands included stopping NATO from expanding east and the deployment of weapons in neighbouring states, including Ukraine.
China’s relationships with multiple Western allies, meanwhile, have cratered in recent years over a host of issues — from trade and security to Beijing’s human rights record and vows to seize Taiwan, which it claims.
China, an authoritarian one-party state, responded with fury to being left out of the Biden’s summit, branding US democracy a “weapon of mass destruction”.
Beijing’s diplomats overseas and its state controlled media ramped up a propaganda blitz criticising Western democracy as corrupt and a failure.
Instead they touted what China calls “whole-process people’s democracy”, aiming to shore up legitimacy for the ruling Communist Party, which has swung increasingly authoritarian under Xi.
Evan GERSHKOVICH with Ludovic EHRET in Beijing