Putin ally Lukashenko and Chinese leader Xi Jinping vow to deepen defense ties

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Chinese leader Xi Jinping and Belarusian counterpart Alexander Lukashenko – a close ally of Vladimir Putin – vowed to deepen defense and security ties and expressed shared views on the war in Ukraine during a Wednesday meeting in Beijing, as geopolitical tensions around Russia’s war continue to rise.

Lukashenko endorsed China’s recent position on a “political solution” to the conflict, according to a Chinese Foreign Ministry readout of the meeting, referring to a statement released by Beijing last week which called for peace talks to end the conflict, but did not push for a Russian withdrawal from Ukraine – drawing skepticism from Western leaders.

Both Xi and Lukashenko expressed “deep concern over the prolonged armed conflict” and looked forward to an “early return to peace in Ukraine,” according to a joint statement following their sit down in the Great Hall of the People, where Xi greeted Lukashenko in a ceremony alongside a phalanx of Chinese troops.

The visit from the Belarusian leader – who allowed Russian troops to use Belarus to stage their initial incursion into Ukraine last year – comes as tensions between the US and China have intensified in recent weeks, including over concerns from Washington that Beijing is considering sending lethal aid to the Kremlin’s struggling war effort.

Beijing has denied those claims and instead sought to portray itself as an impartial agent of peace – in contrast to the United States, who it has accused of “adding fuel to the fire” in the conflict and damaging the global economy with sanctions targeting Russia.

Speaking about the war in Wednesday’s meeting, Xi called for “relevant countries” to “stop politicizing and instrumentalizing the world economy” and act in a way to help “resolve the crisis peacefully,” in an apparent reference to the US and its allies.

The joint statement underscored the alignment between Minsk and Beijing when it comes to their opposition of what they see as a Western-led global order, with their joint statement including opposition to “all forms of hegemonism and power politics, including the imposition of illegal unilateral sanctions and restrictive measures against other countries.”

China and Belarus, which was also targeted in hefty Western sanctions following Russia’s invasion, would also bolster their cooperation across a range of economic areas, the statement said.

They also pledged to “deepen cooperation” on military personnel training, fighting terrorism, and “jointly preventing ‘color revolution'” – a reference to popular pro-democracy movements autocrats allege are backed by Western governments.

The meeting, which Chinese state media described as “warm and friendly,” was the leaders’ first face-to-face since upgrading ties to an “all-weather comprehensive strategic partnership” on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit last September in Uzbekistan, which Putin also attended.

“Today we will jointly set out new visions for the development of the bilateral ties … Our long-lasting friendly exchanges will keep our friendship unbreakable,” Xi told Lukashenko during the meeting, according to Chinese state media. He also endorsed Belarus in becoming a full member of the China and Russia-led SCO, where it is currently an observer state.

Speaking the same day from Uzbekistan, which is also a SCO member, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said China “can’t have it both ways,” by “putting itself out as a force for peace in public,” while it continues to “fuel the flames of this fire that Vladimir Putin started.”

Blinken said that there are “some positive elements” of China’s peace proposal but accused China of doing the opposite of supporting peace in Ukraine “in terms of its efforts to advance Russian propaganda and misinformation about the war blocking and tackling for Russia.”

He also repeated Western concerns that China is considering providing Russia with lethal aid and later said he had no plans to meet with Russian or Chinese counterparts at a G20 meeting for foreign ministers scheduled to take place in New Delhi in India on March 2.

The tightening of ties between Minsk and Beijing also comes alongside a years-long decline in Belarus’ relations with the West.

The former Soviet state was targeted by sweeping sanctions from the US and its allies in response to Moscow’s aggression after Lukashenko allowed Russian troops to invade Ukraine through the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) Ukrainian-Belarusian border north of Kyiv.

The European Union also does not recognize the results of Lukashenko’s 2020 election win – which sparked mass pro-democracy protests in the country and were followed by a brutal government crackdown. The US has also called the election “fraudulent.”

There have been fears throughout the conflict in Ukraine that Belarus will again be used as a launching ground for another Russian offensive, or that Lukashenko’s own troops would join the war. Before visiting Moscow earlier this month, Lukashenko claimed there is “no way” his country would send troops into Ukraine unless it is attacked.

Like China, Belarus has previously implied that the US does not want to see an end to the conflict.

In comments to reporters earlier this month before heading to Moscow to meet with Putin, Lukashenko maintained he wanted to see “peaceful negotiations” and accused the United States of preventing Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky from negotiating.

“The US are the only ones who need this slaughter, only they want it,” he said.

CNN’s Beijing bureau, Martin Goillandeau, Wayne Cheng, and Sandi Sidhu contributed reporting.