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Press review: Day one of Putin's China visit and US stands by Ukraine

Top stories from the Russian press on Friday, May 17th
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping Sergey Guneyev/POOL/TASS
Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping
© Sergey Guneyev/POOL/TASS

MOSCOW, May 17. /TASS/. A closer look at day one of Vladimir Putin's official visit to China; US Secretary of State Antony Blinken gives Ukraine assurances of support; and leading importers scale down Russian coal purchases in early 2024. These stories topped Friday's newspaper headlines across Russia.


Media: Strategic talks between Putin, Xi kick off Russian president's state visit to China

Vladimir Putin began a two-day state visit to China on May 16, the Russian president’s first foreign trip since taking office, a reciprocal move in response to Xi Jinping's visit a year ago. The parties discussed various opportunities for mutual cooperation with an informal meeting between the two presidents, which included the topic of Ukraine, lasting about four hours.

The negotiations were first held with a very small group of people. Putin said that bilateral trade between the countries in 2023 increased by almost a quarter and amounted to $227 bln. China is Russia’s main partner in the trade and economic sphere, and Russia now ranks 4th among China’s trade partners. According to the president, priority areas of cooperation include energy, agriculture, high technology, infrastructure, construction, and transportation. Then the negotiations expanded, with the heads of state-owned companies, state corporations, and banks taking part.

The parties agreed to ensure uninterrupted payment channels between businesses and actively use national payment systems. The leaders also discussed regional conflicts, including the war in the Gaza Strip, and the Ukraine crisis, prompting Xi Jinping to express hope for a speedy normalization of the situation in Europe.

The most pressing issue in Russian-Chinese business cooperation is cross-border financial settlements, Izvestia writes. Representatives of Sberbank and VTB arrived in Beijing together with the president.

"It is highly likely that the BRICS Pay blockchain payment system, which does not fall under the control of the United States, settlements in digital currencies, as well as the creation of new channels for payments between Russian and Chinese legal entities will be agreed upon. Business - both Russian and Chinese - needs urgent solutions, here and now," Vice President of the National Coordination Center for International Business Cooperation Pavel Kuznetsov told Izvestia.

The Ukrainian crisis was one of the key topics of discussion. "Beijing, for many reasons, wants to see not only the military phase of the Ukraine crisis wrapped up, but also the whole thing in general. China understands that resolving this issue is possible only by forming a more equitable world order on the principles of mutual gain and rejection of the 'zero-sum game'," expert at the Intercultural Research Center of Huzhou University Viktor Pirozhenko told Izvestia.

Russian presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov noted in an interview with Izvestia that "China is our strategic partner and the number one country in terms of trade and economic turnover. The volume of our trade with China last year exceeded $220 bln."

"Russia and China understand that the current system of coordinates in international security is changing and it should be replaced by a fairer system, a system that is based on the principle of indivisibility, security, where some countries do not solve their security problems at the expense of others," Peskov added.

As for the results of the first day of the state visit to China, according to information on the Kremlin website, a wide variety of documents were signed between the countries, with 11 documents being signed in total, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. 

Russia and China intend to develop cooperation in the civil aircraft industry, shipbuilding, automotive and machine tool manufacturing and the electronics industry, the joint statement said. The document also stated that the parties agreed to develop cooperation on a market basis in the field of oil, natural gas, liquefied natural gas (LNG), coal and electricity.

Natasha Kuhrt, senior lecturer at King's College in London, told Nezavisimaya Gazeta she believes that Russian-Chinese relations revolve around energy trade, as well as cooperation in ensuring security and stability in Central Asia. The West might have underestimated the strength of the Sino-Russian relationship, she added.


Nezavisimaya Gazeta: US Secretary of State gives Ukraine assurances of support

The leaders of Russia and Ukraine are meeting with their key allies - while Vladimir Putin was holding talks in Beijing, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken ended his visit to Kiev. In a surprise move, the top American diplomat did not directly sanction strikes on Russian territory, Nezavisimaya Gazeta writes. In addition, he assured his Ukrainian partners that military support for Kiev would continue until its victory, and that it would be Ukraine, not the White House, that would decide what to do with the supplied weapons.

Despite the difficult situation at the front for Ukraine, Blinken said during his visit that the White House is determined to ensure that the Ukrainians win the conflict with Russia. To achieve this, the US is accelerating the delivery of military aid. It remains unclear exactly how the current US administration views victory for Kiev, according to Nezavisimaya Gazeta.

Dean of the faculty of world politics at Moscow State University Andrey Sidorov told the newspaper he believes that the United States’ main goal now is to preserve Ukrainian statehood. It is important for the current White House administration that the front not collapse before the middle of next month, when countries will gather for the peace conference on Ukraine. Better yet would be to hold out until the US presidential election, keeping Biden from suffering a major political defeat, the expert noted.

"The fall of 2022 gave rise to confidence that Ukraine would be able to regain its lost territories. But the situation has changed. Peaceful negotiations are becoming less and less likely, because for them to be possible, that would require a reasonable position to be formed that corresponds to what is happening at the front," the expert added.


RBC: Russia's arms export portfolio reaches around $60 bln

Russia's outstanding contracts for exports of arms and military equipment have reached a record $60 bln, CEO of Rostec Sergey Chemezov said in an interview with RBC. Meanwhile, Chemezov did not rule out the possibility of an initial public offering (IPO) of shares in the state corporation's civilian enterprises. Rostec also expects a significant decrease in the number of foreign aircraft in the fleets of Russian airlines from 2030.

"Due to the fact that today most of our products are used for the needs of the Ministry of Defense, of course we are reducing export sales. But this does not mean that there is no demand, there is a lot of demand. Today we have an export portfolio of around $60 bln. This is a record-breaking figure. The portfolio shows that as soon as we finish the special military operation, we will immediately have a large number of products for export," Chemezov said.

He clarified that in terms of state defense orders, Rostec’s share is just over 50% in value terms. "In terms of quantity, of course, we have much more. If we talk about air defense systems, 80% of all products are supplied by us, which includes all military aviation, all armored vehicles, artillery, MLRS, ammunition and electronic warfare equipment," Chemezov added.

Speaking about civil aviation, he noted, "I think that starting from 2030 there will be a noticeable departure of foreign aircraft from Russian airlines, since there will no longer be much capacity for repairs. Therefore, by this time we will need to produce a sufficient number of various aircraft. This primarily includes the MC-21, Superjet 100, Tu-214, Il-114, Il-96, which should be provided for all our airlines," he said.

Chemezov told RBC that Andrey Belousov’s appointment to the post of Russia’s Minister of Defense came as a surprise for him, but he called this decision correct. "Today we need a person who would consider the defense industry not just as a source of weapons, but also as a fairly large sector of the economy that provides an opportunity for the development of civilian products," he noted.


Izvestia: European leaders growing more divided over path to peace in Ukraine

There is growing division among European elites on how to resolve the conflict in Ukraine, Croatian MEP Ivan Vilibor Sincic told Izvestia. According to him, the new composition of the European Parliament, which will be formed after the elections scheduled for June 6-9, will be more pragmatic on this issue. In addition, the position of Western politicians will be influenced by their growing military spending and the recent success of the Russian army in Ukraine. Experts are confident that against this backdrop, European officials will be increasingly divided into pro-Atlantic and realist camps. However, analysts believe that a scenario in which the conflict is effectively frozen on the contact line is unlikely.

On May 10, Russia launched a major offensive in the Kharkov region. In less than a week, Russian forces managed to liberate more than 200 sq km of territory. Political scientist and Mysl Polska columnist Mateusz Piskorski told Izvestia that the West is closely following the Russian army's successes in Ukraine, and this is influencing the position of politicians on the issue of a peaceful settlement.

As the Russian army advances, discussions about the possibility of a "Korean scenario" for resolving the Ukrainian conflict have been revived in the Western press. This option essentially involves freezing the confrontation along the line of contact. The "Korean scenario" is unrealistic, and Russia is unlikely to agree to it, Doctor of Political Sciences, Associate Professor at the Faculty of World Politics at Moscow State University Alexey Fenenko, told Izvestia. "The ‘Korean scenario’ is the division of the country into two states. On the current line of contact, it gives Russia nothing," he noted.

In some European countries, doubts about unconditional military support for Ukraine are already growing, German MEP Gunnar Beck told Izvestia. According to him, in the future only ardent hawks will advocate the return of Crimea to Ukraine. In the long run, part of the European establishment will get tired of the inflexible approach of Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky, he believes.


Vedomosti: Top importers of Russian coal slash purchases

The main buyers of Russian coal - China, India and Turkey - sharply reduced their imports in January - March 2024, two sources familiar with the statistics of the Ministry of Energy told Vedomosti. According to experts interviewed by Vedomosti, this is due primarily to the high cost of logistics and low export prices.

Exports to India in the first three months, compared with the figures for Q1 of 2023, fell by more than half to 4.7 mln tons, to Turkey - almost two-fold to 4.1 mln tons. China reduced its purchases of Russian coal by 16% to 12.9 mln tons.

At the same time, several non-CIS countries increased their purchases. Exports to Hong Kong also increased by at least 1% to 2.5 mln tons during the reporting period, and shipments to the United Arab Emirates increased by 8% to 2.1 mln tons. Based on the Q1 results, the UAE is now in the top five among non-CIS importers.

Market participants and analysts interviewed by Vedomosti see three reasons for the decline in export deliveries to the largest buyers: low export prices, expensive logistics, and a decline in demand for Russian coal in these countries.

Nikolay Dudchenko, analyst at Finam FG, noted that the overall figure of Russian coal exports is affected by the global decline in demand.

According to Alfa Bank's forecast, Russian coal exports may return to last year's levels in the coming months. Coal production in Russia in 2024 will remain at a level close to the volume of 2023, Alfa Bank reported.

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