By Alexander Marrow
MOSCOW (Reuters) -Russia and China are not creating a military alliance and the cooperation between their armed forces is “transparent”, President Vladimir Putin said in comments broadcast on Sunday, days after hosting Chinese leader Xi Jinping in the Kremlin.
Putin and Xi professed friendship and pledged closer ties, including in the military sphere, during their March 20-21 summit, as Russia struggles to make battlefield gains in what it calls a “special military operation” in Ukraine.
“We are not creating any military alliance with China,” Putin said on state television. “Yes, we have cooperation in the sphere of military-technical interaction. We are not hiding this.
“Everything is transparent, there is nothing secret.”
China and Russia signed a “no limits” partnership accord in early 2022, just weeks before Putin sent tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine. Beijing has refrained from criticising Putin’s decision and has touted a peace plan for Ukraine. The West has dismissed its proposals as a ploy to buy Putin more time to rebuild his forces in Ukraine.
Washington has said recently that it fears Beijing could arm Russia, something China denies.
In his televised remarks, Putin dismissed suggestions that Moscow’s increased ties with Beijing in areas such as energy and finance meant that Russia was becoming overly dependent on China, saying these were the views of “jealous people”.
“For decades many have desired turning China against the Soviet Union and Russia, and vice versa,” he said. “We understand the world we live in. We really value our mutual relations and the level they have reached in recent years.”
Putin also accused the United States and NATO of seeking to build a new global “axis” that he said bore some resemblance to the World War Two alliance between Nazi Germany, fascist Italy and imperial Japan.
Putin named Australia, New Zealand and South Korea as being in line to join a “global NATO” and referenced a defence agreement signed by Britain and Japan earlier this year.
“That is why Western analysts… are talking about the West starting to build a new axis similar to the one created in the 1930s by the fascist regimes of Germany and Italy and militarist Japan,” he said.
NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg has visited Japan and South Korea this year, and stressed the importance of the Atlantic alliance working closely with partners in the Indo-Pacific region. He has also spoken of rising tensions between the West and China and urged more military support for Ukraine.
Putin has depicted Russia’s actions in Ukraine as a defensive pushback against an aggressive hostile West, drawing parallels with Moscow’s fight against invading Nazi German forces during World War Two.
Kyiv and its Western allies dismiss such suggestions as absurd, saying Moscow is seeking to seize territory and cripple Ukraine’s ability to function as an independent state.
Ukraine says there can be no peace talks until all Russian forces have withdrawn from its territory. Russia says Ukraine must accept the loss of swathes of territory that Moscow claims to have annexed.
Putin’s comments came a day after he announced that Russia would station tactical nuclear weapons in Belarus, in an apparent warning to NATO over its military support for Ukraine.
(Writing by Alexander Marrow and Gareth Jones; Editing by Louise Heavens, Frances Kerry and Hugh Lawson)