The rubber may hit the road soon in the Vladimir Putin/Xi Jinping bromance — assuming one exists at all. With his infantry getting ground into dust in Ukraine and his missile barrage doing nothing but fortifying Kyiv’s determination, the Russian dictator has begun looking for new ways to rescue his so-called “special military operation” and save what little face Putin has left.

Will Xi Jinping jump onto Putin’s bandwagon with a military alliance? Only if he’s insane:

Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping on Friday held a video conference during which the two leaders said they would seek to strengthen relations between their two countries.

Russia has sought to ramp up its political and military ties with its key ally Beijing since Moscow faces unprecedented Western sanctions over its invasion of Ukraine.

China, meanwhile, has not condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine. Beijing has maintained what it says is an “objective” and neutral position over the war and offered diplomatic backing to its strategic ally. …

“We aim to strengthen cooperation between the armed forces of Russia and China,” Putin told Xi, calling the Chinese leader a “dear friend.”

Reuters has more on Putin’s pitch, as well as background on it, and pointed out Xi’s lack of reciprocation:

The two men had signed a “no limits” strategic partnership in February, informed by shared distrust of the West, a few days before Russia sent its armed forces into Ukraine in what it terms a “special military operation”.

Putin told Xi on Friday: “You and I share the same views on the causes, course and logic of the ongoing transformation of the global geopolitical landscape, in the face of unprecedented pressure and provocations from the West.” …

Putin’s remarks contrasted with a far shorter statement from Xi, who made no mention of a visit to Moscow, according to the official translation into Russian.

Chinese diplomacy is incredibly nuanced and fine tuned. Leaving an “ally” hanging like that is no accident. Either Putin’s invitation took Xi by surprise or Xi intended to rebuke Putin by failing to respond to his entreaty. In Western terms, this looks a lot like a kiss-off.

That is likely no accident, either. The Moscow-Beijing partnership looked much better from China’s point of view before the invasion. Everything that has happened since should alert Xi to the massively imbalanced fruits of such an alliance, especially military. China is a top-tier economic power now, and at least nominally a major power militarily. Even before Putin’s insane attempt to conquer Ukraine, Russia was at best a second-rate industrial power with only their energy sector to give them any international-trade heft. Their genocidal campaign against Ukraine has likely damaged that export capability for a generation, as few will now be foolish enough to fall into Putin’s economic trap.

As far as a military alliance, what value could Russia possibly provide China in such an arrangement? The Russian army is getting cut to pieces against a smaller army, and their infantry is likely to be nearly completely destroyed in the months to come. Their military leadership is incompetent and their intelligence apparatus either even more so or corrupt to the point of uselessness. Even the Russians’ weapons systems turned out to be poorly designed and badly used, and their doctrine hasn’t changed since World War II.

Who needs a military ally like that? More importantly, why would Xi decide to cross that Rubicon and sacrifice critical commercial connections with the West, just  to prop up Putin and his incompetents in Moscow while they lose what should have been a walkover war against Kyiv?

Perhaps Xi is insane enough to saddle himself to a tinpot incompetent like Putin and risk everything else. Putin certainly hopes that will be the case. Xi may have his own competence issues — especially in light of the zero-COVID catastrophe — but he’s never demonstrated a predilection for that level of self-destruction.

Xi won’t have any issues running diplomatic interference for Putin, but he’ll do that for his own purposes, not Putin’s. Xi wants to set himself up as the only power broker in Asia and eclipse Putin, which this pas de deux with Moscow enables. If Xi has any sense, though, he’ll let Putin get stuck with the check for everything else. He certainly didn’t seem to be eager to pick up the check at today’s video conference.

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