Propagandists cheer Putin’s “boring” visit to China

The Bell

Vladimir Putin and a heavyweight team of advisors, ministers and business leaders visited China last week in the president’s first overseas trip since his latest inauguration. The packed delegation was yet again unable to secure an agreement on the elusive Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline — a project Russia sees as crucial to securing gas revenues following the loss of European markets. Nor did they announce a solution to growing cross-border payments issues amid tougher US sanctions. Nevertheless, Russian propagandists still managed to squeeze out a reason to celebrate the visit — mainly that it showed Russia and China’s friendship is stronger than ever.

  • One column in state-owned Rossiyskaya Gazeta newspaper did admit that Putin’s trip to China was rather underwhelming. Calling it “boring,” it said there was no intrigue, no “hot” news, and none of the stage-managed improvisation that can add a degree of excitement to such visits. Instead, the trip merely underscored the familiar “vector for progressive development.” However, the author noted: at a time of an “escalating global mess,” putting on a show of stability and business-as-usual ties between Beijing and Moscow was exactly what the trip was intended for.
  • RIA Novosti, one of the biggest state-run news agencies, ran a column with a similar message: Russia and China used the trip to confirm their intentions for strategic cooperation at a time when the West is trying to use sanctions and economic pressure to upset Sino-Russian relations. This “brotherly” relationship has a long history: back in the Korean War, the writer claimed, both countries stood against an American army that threatened their borders.
  • Putin’s trip did not lead the agenda of the most popular end-of-week state TV news reviews. They were overshadowed by the breaking news of the Iranian president’s helicopter crashing and the situation on the front line in Ukraine, where Russian forces have claimed a string of territorial gains. On both Rossiya 1 and Channel 1 the visit was in second spot in the running order, while NTV relegated it to fifth place. “Ties between Russia and China are stronger in spite of the storms,” Rossiya 1 said.
  • Pro-Kremlin analyst Sergei Markov suggested that the trip did have a greater, hidden significance than might appear at first glance. “The most important issue that was resolved during the talks was absolutely top secret,” he said. “Nobody will ever know the full outcome of the trip since the task is to create a trade system between the two countries that is completely closed off to the Americans and lies beyond the reach of secondary sanctions.” There was no corroboration of his claims.
  • American analyst Michael Pillsbury also got plenty of air-time in Russia after he told Fox News that the friendly embrace between Putin and Xi Jinping represented “a colossal strategic defeat for the US” because the Chinese leader is usually far more reserved. In total, more than 20 pro-government outlets picked up his comments. 

Why the world should care:

Putin’s trip to China was hardly a breakthrough. Serious problems, not least over mounting issues with cross-border payments, remain for Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin to deal with when he meets his Chinese counterpart in Moscow in an upcoming trip. Russian state media coverage reflected this, not even trying to present news of a sensational agreement to the Russian public, instead falling back on the familiar “no-limits friendship” trope, just dressed up in slightly new clothes for this occasion.


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