Putin assures Xi he will go to Winter Olympics in show of unity

Russian leader defies western boycott and forms ‘new model of cooperation’ with Chinese leader

Vladimir Putin speaks with the Chinese president Xi Jinping via videoconference in Moscow Vladimir Putin speaks with the Chinese president Xi Jinping via videoconference in Moscow on Wednesday. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/APVladimir Putin speaks with the Chinese president Xi Jinping via videoconference in Moscow on Wednesday. Photograph: Mikhail Metzel/AP

in Moscow

Vladimir Putin has confirmed he will attend the opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, an event that Boris Johnson and other western leaders have boycotted in protest at human rights abuses in China.

Putin made the pledge during a video call with the Chinese leader, Xi Jinping, as he said that a “new model of cooperation has been formed between our countries, based on other matters of principles such as non-interference in [each other’s] internal affairs”.

Russia and China are facing increasing pressure from the US and western countries as regional conflicts and human rights abuses have led to growing tensions.

The US, UK and Australia have said high-level officials will not be attending the winter Games owing largely to China’s abuses of Uyghur Muslims in Xinjiang and crackdown on the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement.

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Putin is seeking support in his growing conflict with the west over his military buildup near Ukraine. During their conversation, Putin and Xi voiced shared concern over the trilateral Aukus security pact between Australia, the UK and US. In return, Xi had said he supported Putin’s demands for new security guarantees in Europe, according to Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov. “He understands what concerns Russia has with regard to its western borders,” Ushakov said.

Putin’s promise to attend the Olympics would mark a rare trip overseas for the Covid-shy Russian president. He has travelled abroad only twice since the outbreak of the pandemic – to Geneva in June to meet Joe Biden, and to New Delhi to meet the Indian prime minister, Narendra Modi. Xi has not publicly left China since 2019.

“As agreed, we will hold talks and then participate in the opening ceremony of the Winter Olympic Games,” Putin told Xi during the meeting. While the two leaders are not allies and compete with one another for influence, they have found a common cause in resisting pressure over how they govern their countries.

The pledge came as a senior US official arrived in Moscow for talks with Russian diplomats. The US assistant secretary of state, Karen Donfried, had earlier travelled to Kyiv, where she told officials that under no circumstances would Washington press Ukraine into making concessions to Russia.

In Moscow she met the Russian deputy foreign minister, Sergei Ryabkov. The meeting lasted an hour, during which Ryabkov said he would formally propose the “security guarantees” that Russia has sought from the US and Nato countries. In particular, Moscow has demanded guarantees that Ukraine will not join Nato and will not serve as a base for the military alliance’s infrastructure.

“There has been a substantive discussion of security guarantees in light of the ongoing attempts of the United States and Nato at changing the military-political situation in Europe in their favour,” the Russian foreign ministry said in a brief statement that gave no other details about the meeting.

Donfried also reportedly met with Dmitry Kozak, a Kremlin official seen as curating Russia’s policy for east Ukraine. The meeting indicated that Russia was interested in pursuing high-level contacts as soon as possible concerning the conflict. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later said that Putin may speak with Joe Biden by the end of the year.

In a public statement, Donfried said that she would share Russia’s proposals with US allies in an effort to provide transparency to Washington’s negotiations with the Kremlin. “Ryabkov asked to meet with me to share Moscow’s proposals on European security. I will take these ideas back to Washington and also share them with our allies and partners,” she said.

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