June 16 (UPI) — Chinese President Xi Jinping has told Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin that Beijing backs Russia’s “sovereignty and security” interests, according to China’s foreign ministry, in perhaps the clearest show of support since the start of the war in Ukraine more than three months ago.
The two leaders spoke during a call on Wednesday, which was Xi’s birthday, in the first known occasion that they have talked since Feb. 25, one day after Russia launched its full-scale assault on Ukraine.
Xi told Putin on Wednesday that relations between their countries “have maintained a sound development momentum” and that economic cooperation has “made steady progress,” according to the Chinese readout of the call.
“China is willing to work with Russia to continue supporting each other on their respective core interests concerning sovereignty and security,” Xi said.
Beijing has avoided publicly taking sides on the Ukraine crisis and has refused to call Russia’s actions an invasion, instead appealing for diplomatic efforts and a peaceful settlement.
China has echoed Russia’s concerns about NATO expansion, however, and has blamed the United States for heightening tensions and fanning the flames of conflict. The United States and China have been navigating souring relations for years.
The Kremlin’s account of the call was more effusive in describing Xi’s support.
“The presidents stated that Russian-Chinese relations were at an all-time high and are constantly improving,” it said in a readout.
The Kremlin version also said that Xi “noted the legitimacy of Russia’s actions to protect fundamental national interests in the face of challenges to its security created by external forces.”
On the eve of the Beijing Winter Olympics in early February, just weeks before the Russian invasion, Xi and Putin held a summit and issued a joint statement declaring “no limits” to their cooperation.
While Beijing was careful to keep its distance in the early weeks of the invasion, Russia and China have shown a close coordination on the geopolitical stage in recent weeks.
The two countries conducted joint bomber flights near Japan last month at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden was in Tokyo for a summit of the leaders of the Quadrilateral Security Dialogue, also known as the Quad.