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Xi, Putin Hold First Meeting Since Ukraine Invasion Began

China’s President Xi Jinping met with Russia’s leader Vladimir Putin in Samarkand, Uzbekistan, on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit Thursday.

This is the first in-person encounter since Russian forces launched their February 24 invasion of Ukraine and the meeting marks a show of diplomatic support for the Russian president.

Xi is aiming to bolster his standing as a geopolitical statesman in his first trip outside China since early in the COVID-19 pandemic and is coming before October’s Communist Party leaders’ meeting, when he’s expected to secure third term in office.

In his opening remarks at the meeting, Putin said: “We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard. During today’s meeting, of course, we will explain in detail our position on this issue, although we have spoken about this before.”

Putin also referred to Xi as a “dear and longtime friend,” adding that Russia supports the One China principle and condemns the U.S.’ “provocations” in Taiwan.

Xi said: “Dear President Putin, my dear and long-time friend, I am very pleased to meet again. In this year’s February, we were pleased to celebrate the beginning of spring (according to the Chinese calendar – TASS) and the opening of the Winter Olympics, to discuss grand plans for the development of Russian-Chinese relations.

“Under conditions of a global pandemic we continue to maintain effective strategic contacts, particularly through phone calls.”

However, China released a statement after the meeting noting that it was “ready to work with Russia in extending strong support to each other on issues concerning their respective core interests.”

The SCO is a political, economic and security organization designed to counter U.S. influence, which Beijing and Moscow founded in 2001.

Iran had earlier announced this week that it would join the SCO, underscoring the growing alignment between the U.S.’s top adversaries.

Xi and Putin last met in early February in Beijing, where they jointly announced a “no limits” partnership and the arrival of a “new era” of global politics — just weeks before Putin’s invasion of Ukraine.

The Chinese leader backed the Russian president in warning against Western “interference” and a NATO expansion – which Putin later blamed in his attempts to try and justifying his forces’ unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

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