Putin got very little out of Xi’s big visit except pomp and ceremony
In the end, Xi Jinping’s much-vaunted visit to Moscow proved little more than a photo opportunity.
There was pomp and ceremony in the Kremlin’s glittering halls, but the joint statement he gave with Vladimir Putin suggests the leaders did not make any major breakthroughs.
There was no big announcement on Ukraine. No surprise Chinese diplomatic gambit on peace talks, nor any shock announcement of military support from Beijing.
Putin said there were some points in China’s deliberately vague 12-point peace plan that Russia could work with, and went no further.
He also took a swipe at Britain’s decision to send depleted Uranium tank rounds to Ukraine.
For the most part, he repeated a few statistics about increased trade and financial deals, padded with the same stock phrases about partnership, friendship and common goals with which Mr Xi’s trip began.
Mr Xi responded with the same vague pleasantries.
True, the business deals signed today - which were heavily trailed and unsurprising - will help Russia weather its ongoing wartime economic drought.
We do not know what was said behind closed doors.
But in public, president Xi’s grand trip to Moscow looks more like theatre than anything else.
It is a theatre that appears to have played more to China’s benefit than to Russia’s.
Just by going to Moscow, Mr Xi has demonstrated how indispensable he is to Russia.
The unspoken flip side is the assertion of total dominance in their relationship. The “no-limits” partnership between the two countries will be very much on China’s terms - as will any financial deals that emerge from it.
He has shown the West that he, too, can build alliances, and is unafraid to offer Putin public support.
But he has refused to go all in on support for the Russian war effort in the war Putin would like.
Instead, he has carefully positioned China as a crucial intermediary. When the time for peace talks with Russia does come, Ukraine and its Western allies, including the United States, may find they need to talk to China first.
Mr Putin has shown the West that attempts to isolate him over his war in Ukraine have failed.
American and European leaders may no longer fly to Moscow. But the leader of the second most powerful country on the planet will. That’s not something to be sneered at.
But for all his rhetoric about a common Russian and Chinese struggle against Western dominance, he has failed to drag Beijing into the quagmire of his mad expeditionary war.