The third Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation (BRF) dedicated to China’s eponymous global initiative has begun in Beijing. Taking place from October 17 to 18, the event is attended by leaders and high representatives from over 140 countries and international organizations, making it the largest diplomatic event in China in 2023.
Among the guests are leaders primarily from the Asia-Pacific region, Central Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Arab states in the Middle East.
Russian dictator Vladimir Putin has also arrived in China to participate in the economic forum. The purpose of the visit is to demonstrate «limitless» partnership between the countries, despite the war in Ukraine. Putin’s visit to China is not of a state nature but occurs within a multilateral format (as the leader of one of the many national delegations). As part of the visit, he had a meeting in both «expanded and narrow formats» with leader Xi Jinping and his spouse Peng Liyuan.
Since the start of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine, this is the second foreign visit for the head of the terrorist state after being declared wanted by the International Criminal Court. The Russian dictator has not left Russia, except for visiting Kyrgyzstan and the territories of Ukraine occupied by Russia since the International Criminal Court obligates 123 signatory countries to the Rome Statute to arrest Putin and transfer him to The Hague for trial if he sets foot on their territory. Kyrgyzstan and China are not members of the ICC, created to prosecute war crimes. Putin, embroiled in war, has become «persona non grata» in most countries around the world. Therefore, taking advantage of the celebration of the 10th anniversary of the Belt and Road Initiative in China, Putin has come only where he is still invited.
For Russia, China is an economic lifeline in the face of harsh anti-Russian sanctions due to Russian aggression against Ukraine. It is the main market for Russian goods, the country that provides its currency and payment system for settlements between Russia and the outside world, and is also the main source of the import of sophisticated technologies, including dual-use goods. Ahead of the official visit to Beijing, Russian President Vladimir Putin gave an interview to Chinese television, openly emphasizing the advantages of Chinese leader Xi Jinping, praising the massive but loosely connected BRI projects, hoping that flattery will contribute to improving relations between Beijing and Moscow.
By starting a full-scale war with Ukraine, Russia has trapped itself, making the country weaker, more isolated, and dependent on China. Under Putin’s leadership, Russia daily deepens its international isolation, weakens, and becomes more vulnerable. Therefore, today, Russia is trying to become, if not an ally, then at least a vassal of China. It is already becoming clear that China, not Russia, will determine the level and scope of Russo-Chinese relations. The leader of the Celestial Empire is not in a hurry to meet Moscow’s expectations, calling the use of nuclear weapons in the conflict a «red line.» Beijing fully leverages Russia as a secure friendly neighbor, as a source of cheap raw materials (oil, gas, minerals, and metals), as a market for Chinese products (cars, smartphones), and as a source of military technologies (missiles and missile defense) that are not available in China.
Russia’s dependence on China is only growing after the start of the war in Ukraine. Moscow now depends more on Beijing than ever before, especially in the economic sphere. In China, the Kremlin chief intends to secure not only economic but also military support. China’s new strategic message is to keep Russia in the game for as long as possible. Beijing is ready to support the Russian regime and not let it sink, but no more. China is not interested in the complete collapse of Russia, which would deprive it of an important ally, nor in its complete victory, which would strengthen Moscow’s position vis-à-vis Beijing. A weakened Russia would fully satisfy China.