Vladimir Putin has said he is close to an agreement with Chinese leader Xi Jinping on the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline, a plan to reroute Russia’s gas exports from Europe to Asia.
The negotiations, the centrepiece of Xi’s three-day state visit to Moscow, are underscoring China’s continued support for Russia despite Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and the International Criminal Court’s arrest warrant over the Russian president’s role in alleged war crimes there.
“We were just discussing a good project, the new Power of Siberia 2 pipeline via Mongolia. Practically all the parameters of that agreement have been finalised,” Putin told Xi at the start of their expanded talks in the Kremlin on Tuesday.
The pipeline has not been formally agreed but is expected to come online by 2030, by which point Putin said Russia would supply at least 98 billion cubic metres of gas and 100mn tonnes of liquefied natural gas to China.
It was unclear whether Putin and Xi had finalised the deal to begin work on the pipeline. Alexei Miller, chief executive of state gas monopoly Gazprom, did not appear in television footage of the meeting, though the heads of Russia’s biggest state-run oil company and nuclear power monopoly did attend.
In a meeting earlier on Tuesday with Russian prime minister Mikhail Mishustin, Xi said the two countries needed to further expand their economic partnership in response to the “complex external environment” impacting both since last year, according to the Chinese foreign ministry. Beijing and Moscow “must jointly safeguard our two countries’ energy security”, Xi said.
The Chinese leader told Mishustin he had invited Putin to come to China “at a convenient time” this year — a further show of support for his Russian counterpart as they seek to deepen their “no limits” partnership more than a year after Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.
Contrasting with Xi’s visit was the unexpected trip by Japan’s prime minister Fumio Kishida to Kyiv and Bucha, the site of alleged Russian war crimes where he expressed “great anger at the atrocity” committed there.
China has provided Russia with a crucial economic lifeline to weather the effect of western sanctions, and Xi’s peace plan to end the Ukraine conflict largely aligns with the Kremlin’s goals.
The west’s sanctions have cemented Russia’s status as a junior partner to China, which has increased purchases of Russia’s energy exports and sales of banned equipment such as microchips but has so far stopped short of backing Putin’s war effort.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin and Xi discussed China’s peace plan at informal one-to-one talks that went on for more than four hours on Monday, but did not say whether Putin had accepted Xi’s invitation.
The US has said China’s peace plan would legitimate Russia’s territorial conquests in Ukraine while giving Moscow time to replenish its armed forces for a fresh offensive. “The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia — supported by China or any other country — to freeze the war on its own terms,” US secretary of state Antony Blinken said on Monday.
Ukraine is also sceptical of the plan, but has refrained from criticising China ahead of an expected call between Xi and President Volodymyr Zelenskyy following his three-day visit to Moscow.
Putin has only left the former Soviet Union once, for a trip to Iran, since ordering the invasion of Ukraine in February last year.
His travel options are further restricted by the ICC warrant, under which any of the court’s 123 member states would be expected to arrest him.
Though China and Russia are not signatories to the court’s founding statute, the warrant puts more international pressure on Putin and is likely to push him further into China’s embrace, said Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“It just increases China’s leverage. Where Putin can go at all is now an open question, and China can say he’s always welcome there. So it just drives Putin further into China’s pocket,” Gabuev said.