FOCUS International National

Despite banking sector crisis, Washington kept wary eye on Moscow

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By Yashwant Raj
Washington, March 26 (IANS) No summit not involving a US President has been followed with as much interest – actually, a mix of concern, alarm and gamesmanship – by the US government recently as the one wrapped by China’s Xi Jinping and Russia’s Vladimir Putin earlier this week in Moscow.

The White House and the State Department kept up a daily commentary on the two leaders’ meetings that took place over three days, some of them came in response to questions from reporters at the daily briefings respectively and others were entirely unprompted as if Washington DC was trying to get in a word, and turn the summit into a three-way dialogue.

The US news media, the same time, tooth-combed the visit with breathless coverage of everything from the red carpet rolled out for President Xi, to the military guard and, to their rapturous dismay, the rapport shared by the two leaders who declared each other “dear friend”.

Washington DC could not have been more focussed, even as the summit came amidst a scary banking crisis precipitated by the failure of two regional Banks – the Silicon Valley Bank and Signature – and a highly anticipation arrest of former President Donald Trump in connection with an affair with pornstar Stormy Daniels, which, eventually did not happen.

There were other developments in the days leading up to the visit such as China brokering a peace deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran, delving into a region where the US called the shots; the announcement of a Chinese 12-point peace plan to end the war in Ukraine; and, an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal court for President Putin.

The US went on the offensive even before a single word was uttered by the two leaders in Moscow. Secretary of State Antony Blinken cited the warrant to used it to question President Xi’s intentions.

“That President Xi is travelling to Russia days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin suggests that China feels no responsibility to hold the Kremlin accountable for the atrocities committed in Ukraine, and instead of even condemning them, it would rather provide diplomatic cover for Russia to continue to commit those very crimes,” he said before the Chinese leader touched down in Moscow.

The White House leaned in around the same time, expressing doubts about Xi’s sincerity in resolving the Ukraine conflict. Instead of pressing Putin to leave Ukraine and end the war, “we are concerned that, instead, China will reiterate calls for a ceasefire that leaves Russian forces inside Ukraine sovereign”, John Kirby, the spokesman for the National Security Council told reporters on Monday, just before or around the time President Xi reached Moscow to begin his visit.

Keeping a close eye on the visit, the US went to question the depth of the developing relationship between the two countries. Asked if the US considered the evolving relationship as an alliance, Kirby said he would call it a “marriage of convenience” between the two powers and, it added later, Russia was the “junior partner”.

“In President Putin and Russia, President Xi sees a counterweight to American influence and NATO influence certainly on the continent and elsewhere around the world,” he said, adding: “In President Xi, President Putin sees a potential backer here. This is a man who doesn’t have a whole lot of friends on the international stage; they can count them on one hand mostly.”

Underlying the US response has been the Biden administration’s stated assessment of China as the “only competitor with both the intent to reshape the international order and, increasingly, the economic, diplomatic, military, and technological power to do it”. Russia, it has said, has pursued “an imperialist foreign policy with the goal of overturning key elements of the international order”.