Moscow — After a week of tough phone calls with European leaders, Russian President Vladimir Putin turned to a friendlier ear on Wednesday to hold a video meeting with his Chinese counterpart, President Xi Jinping.
With tension high and still mounting between the West and both of their countries, Putin and Xi praised strengthening Russia-ties, with the Russian leader calling them "a true example of interstate cooperation in the 21st century."
"A new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based, among other things, on the principles of non-interference in internal affairs and respect for each other's interests, and the determination to turn the common border into a belt of eternal peace and good-neighborliness," Putin declared in televised remarks after the virtual meeting.
Xi highlighted his closeness with Putin by noting that it was the 37th direct discussion held between the two leaders since 2013. Putin also said he planned to meet Xi in person in Beijing in February and take part in the opening ceremony of the 2022 Winter Olympics, which the U.S. and some of its allies are.
"I would like to note that we have always supported each other on issues of international sports cooperation, including in rejecting any attempts to politicize sport and the Olympic movement," Putin said in reference to the U.S. decision not to send government officials to the Games.
Amid soaring tension between Moscow and Washington over, Putin has had a series of calls over the last week with European leaders to demand guarantees that NATO will not seek to expand further eastward, toward Russia's border.
Putin's government has made it clear that Ukraine joining the transatlantic defense alliance would be a "red line" for the Kremlin. Ukraine, a U.S. and European Union ally, is actively seeking NATO membership, and the Biden administration has refused to rule it out, insisting it is a matter for Ukraine's sovereign government and NATO members to decide.
U.S. officials, meanwhile, have rung alarm bells for weeks over Russia'salong its border with Ukraine. The White House has been warning European allies that Moscow could even launch another invasion of Ukraine this winter.
The Kremlin insists it has no nefarious intentions and the troops deployed on Russia's own soil pose no threat to Ukraine. Putin and other officials routinely accuse NATO and the West of being the aggressor, by beefing up troop presence on the Ukrainian side and in other eastern European countries.
The U.S. and the EU have warned Russia that any military action against Ukraine would be met with a coordinated barrage of economic sanctions.
On Tuesday, in a phone call with the Finnish President Sauli Niinistö, whose country has often served as neutral ground for contacts between Moscow and Western capitals, Putin demanded "immediate" security talks with NATO.
"Vladimir Putin again stressed the importance of immediately starting talks with the United States and NATO," the Kremlin said in a readout. "The goal of the talks would be to draft international legal security guarantees for Russia, ruling out NATO's further movement eastward and the deployment of weapons systems threatening Russia in Ukraine and other adjacent states."
Putin reiterated the same demands in a phone call with French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday, as the Russian military said it was monitoring a French warship in the Black Sea.
Putin's meeting with Xi came a day after Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Ryabkov warned that Moscow could resort to militarily action if the ongoing discussions with European leaders fail to resolve the standoff over Ukraine and NATO.
"The lack of progress towards a political-diplomatic solution to this problem will lead to the fact that we will respond militarily," Ryabkov told the state-run news agency RIA Novosti.
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