Putin tells Xi will address China's Ukraine 'concerns'

STORY: Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday met with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the sidelines of a summit in Uzbekistan...

the first face-to-face for the two men since Russian forces invaded Ukraine late in February.

Putin told Xi he understood the Chinese had questions - and concerns - about what Russia calls its "special military operation," and praised Beijing for what he called its "balanced position" on the conflict.

"We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis. We understand your questions and concern about this. During today's meeting, we will of course explain our position."

Russia's war in Ukraine has killed tens of thousands of people and pushed the global economy into uncharted waters, sending prices of food and energy soaring prices amid the most significant confrontation between Moscow and the West since the Cold War.

And Putin’s first remarks about Chinese concern over the war come just days after his own soldiers beat a hasty and humiliating retreat in the face of a lightning counterattack by Ukrainian forces in the northeastern part of that country.

China has refrained from condemning Russia's operation against Ukraine or calling it an "invasion" in line with the Kremlin. Still, Beijing has been careful not to give material support to Russia that could trigger Western sanctions on China's own economy.

Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks.

The last time the two leaders met in person, just weeks before Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24, they declared a "no limits" partnership and inked a promise to collaborate more against the West.

The pair have met nearly 40 times since Xi became China’s president in 2013, and the Xi-Putin partnership is considered one of the most significant developments in geopolitics after China's own spectacular rise over the past 40 years.

But the Ukraine war has underscored the different trajectories of China and Russia: one a rising superpower whose economy is forecast to overtake the United States in a decade; the other, a former superpower struggling with a draining war.

Xi's trip to Kazakhstan and Uzbekistan was his first outside China since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.