Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Wednesday that Russia had not lost anything as a result of its ongoing military actions in Ukraine.
Speaking at an economic forum in the far eastern city of Vladivostok, Putin attempted to defend the costs of what he termed his country’s “special military operation” in Ukraine, despite recent Western intelligence reports that indicate Russia is facing severe shortages of military personnel and equipment.
“We have lost nothing and are not going to lose anything. Our main gain is the strengthening of our sovereignty. We didn’t start anything, in terms of military action, but are only trying to finish it,” Putin told the audience.
In a statement Monday, British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said more than 25,000 Russian soldiers are estimated to have died since the start of Putin’s invasion in February this year.
Russia has paid an economic price for its aggression, too. A wave of punishing sanctions from Western nations targeting Russia’s vital energy exports and its financial system has left the country grappling with recession, and potentially facing a prolonged period of stagnation.
Wednesday’s Eastern Economic Forum, which focuses on building investment ties between Russia’s eastern region and global investors, comes on the heels of an announcement from Russian energy giant Gazprom on Tuesday that it had signed an agreement to start switching payments for gas supplies to China to yuan and rubles instead of dollars, a development that was referenced by Putin in his address Wednesday.
The forum also saw China’s number three leader, Li Zhanshu, a member of the Chinese Communist Party’s Politburo Standing Committee and the country’s top legislator, meet in person with Putin on Wednesday, in what was the most senior-level, face-to-face meeting between the two countries since Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. The two were pictured together at a forum plenary session.
Military junta leader General Min Aung Hlaing and Armenian Prime Minister Nikol Pashinyan also attended the forum, according to Russian state media.
Paving the way
The meeting between Li and Putin could pave the way for China’s top leader Xi Jinping’s face-to-face meeting with Putin in Uzbekistan next week.
Xi will meet Putin at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit scheduled on September 15 and 16, Russia’s envoy to Beijing Andrey Denisov told reporters on Wednesday, according to Russian state news agency Tass.
It would be the first in-person meeting between the two leaders, who have established a close relationship, since the Russian invasion of Ukraine earlier this year. It would also be the first overseas trip for Xi since the early days of the coronavirus pandemic.
Li arrived in Vladivostok on Wednesday to attend the forum, becoming the most senior Chinese official to leave China since the start of the pandemic, which has seen the country close borders and limit in-person diplomacy. The stop is part of a 10-day overseas tour, where Li will visit Russia, South Korea, Mongolia and Nepal from Wednesday, Chinese state media reported this week.
The diplomatic visit underlines the importance of the Russian relationship for China, even in the face of international blow back against Moscow after its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine earlier this year.
It also comes weeks before a critical five-yearly political meeting in Beijing, where Xi is expected to break with tradition and assume a third term in power, cementing his role as China’s most powerful leader in decades.
Moscow and Beijing have emerged as closer partners in recent years as both face tensions with the West, with Xi and Putin declaring the two countries had a “no limit” partnership weeks before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Beijing has since refused to condemn the aggression, instead repeatedly laying blame for the conflict on NATO and the United States.
The two countries have signaled that their partnership remains strong, with China’s Foreign Ministry saying last month that the two sides agreed to “deepen practical cooperation” during a meeting between Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi and his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov on the sidelines of a regional gathering in Phnom Penh.
Ahead of his expected visit to Russia, Li made similar comments during a meeting last week with Russian Ambassador Denisov in Beijing. There Li, who is also chairman of China’s Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress, stressed the two nations were “headed toward the right direction under the strategic guidance of the two leaders, with firm mutual support and constant political trust,” according to Chinese state media.