Russian President Vladimir Putin is set to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing to strengthen a partnership between the US and Russia. The two countries declared a “no limits” partnership in February 2022, a year after Putin visited Beijing just days before sending troops into Ukraine, triggering the deadliest land war in Europe since World War Two.
The US views China as its biggest competitor and Russia as its biggest nation-state threat, while President Joe Biden argues that this century will be defined by an existential contest between democracies and autocracies. Graham Allison, a Harvard University professor and former assistant secretary of defense under Bill Clinton, believes that Xi has built the most consequential undeclared alliance in the world with Putin’s Russia. Biden has referred to Xi as a “dictator” and Putin as a “killer” and a leader who cannot remain in power. Putin has mostly stayed within the former Soviet Union since the Ukraine war but has visited Iran last year for talks with Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
Putin and Xi share a broad worldview, viewing the West as decadent and in decline, while China challenges US supremacy in various fields. However, Xi must balance close personal ties with Putin with dealing with the $27 trillion economy of the United States, the world’s strongest military power and the richest. The US has warned China against supplying Putin with weapons as Russia battles Ukrainian forces backed by the US and the European Union. Alexander Gabuev, director of Carnegie Russia Eurasia Center, attributed the Ukraine war’s optics to the potential for scepticism in forming significant public deals.
Military and nuclear cooperation would be discussed, but China is not interested in signing any additional deals in public. The complexity of military cooperation is further complicated by the uncertainty over the fate of Defence Minister Li Shangfu, who has not been seen in public for over six weeks. Russia seeks to increase natural gas sales to China and plans to build the Power of Siberia-2 pipeline, spanning Mongolia with a 50 billion cubic meter capacity. Putin refutes US suggestions for a war against Russia and China, stating that such a conflict would be a different issue.
A bipartisan panel appointed by the US Congress has urged Washington to prepare for possible simultaneous wars with Moscow and Beijing by expanding its conventional forces, strengthening alliances, and enhancing its nuclear weapons modernization program. Putin criticized the US for stoking tensions with Beijing by building the “AUKUS” security alliance of US, Australia, and Britain, and stating that Russia and China were not building a military alliance. Putin argued that thoughts of war between Russia and the US were unhealthy but could cause concern to Moscow. He argued that if the US fought against Russia, it would be different from the war in Ukraine that the Kremlin calls a special military operation. He also warned that if the US fought against Russia, it would be a completely different war, comparing it to the Middle East.
The US claims that both Russia and China are modernizing their nuclear weapons arsenals, with China likely having a stockpile of 1,500 nuclear warheads by 2035 if it continues with its current pace of nuclear buildup. Putin controls around 5,889 nuclear warheads as of 2023, compared to 5,244 controlled by Biden. Russia has about 1,674 deployed strategic nuclear warheads, while the US has 1,670.