The pageant on display at the Grand Kremlin Palace was rare in its proud abundance. Footage shows Xi arriving at the palace before being escorted up to the Hall of the Order of St. George on the second floor. This is the grandest and largest of the palace’s five great halls. As Xi ascended the grand staircase, members of the Russian presidential regiment’s special guard company stood at attention, providing a formal military greeting by following him with their eyes. Xi seemed nonplussed. At least one of the Chinese delegation was impressed, however, using his smartphone to take photos of the guards.
At the top of the stairs, two guards on each side of the hall then opened doors for Xi and Putin as they simultaneously entered the room. The two leaders walked past senior officials from both countries and members of the Russian Security Council toward a central meeting juncture. But Putin arrived at the center before Xi, a show of respect that is rare from the Russian leader.
Putin, after all, enjoys keeping foreign leaders waiting or otherwise off balance in a power play of his supremacy. To Russian state media enjoyment, Putin once made a visibly aggravated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan wait for two minutes in a Kremlin anteroom (Erdogan did the same to Putin last year).
Still, this deference from Putin to Xi is notable. It underscores Russia’s increasing isolation from the international community and associated reliance on China for diplomatic support and trade. It also explains why Putin is likely to make some kind of announcement with Xi related to prospective peace talks or a ceasefire with Ukraine. Putin won’t mean what he says, but he knows Xi wants at least a pretense of peace progress that he can dangle before the European Union.
For the U.S., this meeting is a reminder that China and Russia are forging stronger bonds against American interests. Just click the center of the video below and watch as the two leaders stood to listen to the Russian national anthem. That anthem shares the music, if not the words, of the Soviet Union’s national anthem.