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Putin’s Relationship With China May Be Breaking

The descriptions of a recent talk between Russia’s foreign minister and his Chinese counterpart could offer hints about how their countries are becoming increasingly distant on the issue of the Ukraine war, according to the Institute for the Study of War (ISW).

The ISW, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank, wrote in a Tuesday assessment about a Monday phone call between Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Chinese Communist Party Director of the Office of the Central Commission for Foreign Affairs Wang Yi. The conversation took place following China’s participation in a summit over the weekend in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, at which international officials discussed possible pathways for peace in Ukraine.

The ISW wrote that the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries “portrayed the conversation between Lavrov and Wang differently,” which could suggest “China is increasingly diverging with Russia on proposed settlements to end the war.”
Meanwhile, the United States—Kyiv’s largest financial and military backer—has publicly urged China to refrain from supporting Russia in its war with Ukraine, and Wang reaffirmed that his nation remains impartial on the war following the Jeddah summit. The ISW indicated that this public stance of neutrality is causing a fissure between Beijing and the Kremlin.

Shortly before Russian President Vladimir Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine on February 24, 2022, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping signed a “no limits” partnership agreement. They reaffirmed their countries’ strong ties when Xi visited Moscow in March 2023, but Xi also called Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a month later and stated China’s devotion to facilitating peace.

The ISW wrote that public overtures from China about peace are likely upsetting the Kremlin. In its assessment, the think tank touched upon how the foreign ministries’ accounts of the call between Lavrov and Wang differed and how it could be a sign of a larger issue.

According to the ISW, the Russian Foreign Ministry reported that Lavrov and Wang touched on a series of hot regional topics, including the war with Ukraine, while the Chinese Foreign Ministry reported that the Russian and Chinese sides exchanged views about the war.

The ISW added that “the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s description of the talks may suggest that the Kremlin is becoming dissatisfied with China’s continued efforts to promote its peace plan in international fora.”

Newsweek reached out to the Russian and Chinese foreign ministries via email for comment.

The ISW previously said Beijing is seemingly less invested in its partnership with Russia, which it noted following Xi’s meeting with Putin this year.

On Tuesday, the ISW wrote that the Kremlin’s likely displeasure about China’s public declarations of impartiality “is consistent with ISW’s previous assessments that China is not interested in a ‘no-limits partnership’ with Russia as the Kremlin desires.”