China's President Xi Jinping has left China for the first time since before the pandemic for a trip that included a meeting with his Russian counterpart—and analysts say the timing is very unfortunate for Vladimir Putin. Russian forces have been retreating in Ukraine and "even the prospect of Russia losing the war is enough to make Beijing anxious," Nectar Gan writes at CNN. When they met in China in February, the leaders spoke of a "transformation" of the world order and a friendship with "no limits." Putin launched his invasion of Ukraine weeks later, but the swift victory he hoped for did not materialize and while China hasn't condemned the invasion, it has not risked Western sanctions by providing military support.
Beijing is nervous about developments because "a defeated Russia will strengthen the West and become a less useful and reliable asset in China’s great power rivalry with the US," Gan writes. Putin and Xi met Thursday on the sidelines of at a meeting of the eight-nation Shanghai Cooperation Organization in Uzbekistan, and the Russian government said issues on the agenda included Ukraine, the AP reports. Russian media quoted Yuri Ushakov, Putin's foreign affairs adviser, as saying China "states explicitly that it understands the reasons that forced Russia to launch a special military operation."
Other members of the SCO, which China and Russia describe as an alternative to Western international organizations, include Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, and Kyrgyzstan. India and Pakistan joined in 2017, while countries including Iran and Turkey are classed as "observers" or "dialogue partners," the BBC reports. The invasion of Ukraine has rattled the group's Central Asian members, including Kazakhstan, which was the first stop on Xi's trip. In what some analysts saw as a warning to Moscow, Xi promised China would support the country "in protecting its independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity," and would "categorically oppose the interference of any forces" in its internal affairs, "no matter how the international situation changes," per the AP. (Read more Xi Jinping stories.)