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Clara Ferreira Marques

Putin’s Gamble in Ukraine Risks Xi’s Friendship

Beijing lent its support against the West while Russia rattled sabers. A full-scale invasion of Ukraine is another matter.

Panda bears have a different diet than brown bears.

Panda bears have a different diet than brown bears.

Photographer: Alexei Druzhinin/TASS via Getty Images

Standing side by side before the Beijing Olympics this month — an encounter loaded with significance for two leaders who have kept diplomacy virtual through the pandemic — Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping professed a friendship “with no limits.” And yet, in the expansive statement they signed on areas of agreement, one issue went without mention. In 5,000-plus words of diplomatic flourishes and ideological enthusiasm, there was no word of Ukraine.

Autocrats help autocrats, and China has so far taken Russia’s side in its standoff with the West. Beijing backed Moscow’s demand for binding security guarantees from the U.S. and NATO, and their joint declaration opposed further enlargement of the alliance. But that was not support for adventurism in a neighboring country — certainly not in a year when Xi will lay claim to an unprecedented third term, and needs geopolitical stability, a global economic recovery and improved ties with the West, not a messy European war and $100-a-barrel oil.