A power couple’s Kremlin rendezvous

A power couple’s Kremlin rendezvous

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Welcome to this Wednesday’s edition of Global Insider.

I’m Stuart Lau, POLITICO’s Europe-China correspondent. President Xi Jinping is wrapping up his much-watched visit to Moscow, where he offered his “dear friend” (and the world’s most wanted alleged war criminal) Vladimir Putin much diplomatic support as Russia’s war against Ukraine grinds on.


FEAST LIKE THE CZAR: Xi arrived at Moscow on Monday, and headed to the Kremlin for a (4.5-hour) courtesy call with Putin, before they sat down for a six-course state dinner. The menu included quail pancakes, sturgeon soup, Siberian salmon (or deer in cherry sauce for main course) — plus wine from the vineyard behind Putin’s Black Sea palace.

DOWN TO BUSINESS: This time, Putin and Xi sat down for six hours. Top of the agenda was Ukraine. The two men signed a joint declaration on resolving what they call the “Ukraine crisis.” There’s no mention of troop withdrawal, nor did Xi question Russia’s war, of course.

(EMPTY?) TALKS: Xi and Putin said they both back the idea of peace talks. “Russia reiterates efforts to resume peace talks as soon as possible, which is praised by the Chinese side,” said the statement, carried by China’s Xinhua news agency. “Russia welcomes China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the Ukraine crisis through political and diplomatic means.”

NATO-BASHING: “Both sides oppose any countries or national blocs jeopardizing the reasonable security interests of other nations in the quest for military, political or other forms of superiorities,” the Putin-Xi statement adds.

XI’S BEST WISHES: The Chinese leader also briefly turned election pundit. In an eyebrow-raising move, he expressed confidence that Russians would back Putin in next year’s presidential election.

“I know that next year there will be another presidential election in your country,” Xi told Putin at the start of talks in the Kremlin, the state-run TASS news agency reported. “Thanks to your strong leadership, Russia has made significant progress in achieving prosperity … in recent years. I am sure that the Russian people will strongly support Mr. President.”

The problem is, Putin hasn’t declared his candidacy yet … even though there’s little uncertainty he will. Xi’s remarks prompted Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov to say that the Chinese leader had not specifically said Putin would participate in next year’s election — even though the Kremlin shared Xi’s confidence in Russians’ support for Putin. Reuters reported.

ANOTHER KEY DEAL — THE ARCTIC: Russia and China will set up a joint working group for the development of the Northern Sea Route, Putin told Xi. “We see cooperation with Chinese partners in developing the transit potential of the Northern Sea Route as promising.” This is a strategic prize for China, which is keen to seek alternative routes to Europe away from the Suez Canal, the Indian Ocean and the Straits of Malacca.

AFTER VLADIMIR, PERHAPS VOLODYMYR? All eyes are now on whether Xi will call Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy after his Moscow trip. Ukraine is saying they’re ready for such a call. POLITICO’s Ukraine Correspondent Veronika Melkozerova has more.

SECRET JOURNEY: As Xi was feted by Putin, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, also rotating president of the G7, traveled to Kyiv to meet with Zelenskyy. Kishida made the unannounced trip after his visit to India.

TIME FOR MORE CHINA COVERAGE: Together with my U.S.-based colleague Phelim Kine, I will start writing a twice-a-week China Watcher newsletter from next week, out Tuesdays and Thursdays, bringing you a transatlantic perspective on the latest policy discussions and political interactions with and on China. Sign up here.

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CREDIT SQUEEZED: Europe’s financiers are watching the markets with eyes wide open this week as Credit Suisse, Europe’s 19th biggest lender, goes down the tubes. It’s the most dramatic banking casualty since the 2008 financial crisis.

It was historic. On Sunday, the stricken Zurich-based lender was forced by Swiss authorities to get into bed with its longtime domestic rival UBS. A 3 billion Swiss franc deal that — for a few hours at least — allowed everyone to breathe a sigh of relief.

As always, the devil is in the detail. Credit Suisse’s collapse also raises serious questions over whether the system was quite as solid as the banking police thought it was in the first place. POLITICO’s Izabella Kaminska and Hannah Breton have this analysis.

ALPINE ‘BANANA REPUBLIC’: “Switzerland’s standing as a financial centre is shattered,” Octavio Marenzi, CEO of Opimas, said in a research note. “The country will now be viewed as a financial banana republic.” CNBC has more.


PUSHING THROUGH REFORM: Emmanuel Macron’s government narrowly survived a no-confidence vote in the French parliament Monday, after it pushed through a deeply unpopular pensions overhaul without a vote last week. Soon enough, Paris was engulfed in protests.

MACRON SPEAKS OUT: “The packs do not prevail over the representatives of the people,” he told a group of loyalist lawmakers in Paris, according to French newspaper Le Monde. “The crowd,” he continued, had “no legitimacy in the face of the people who express themselves sovereign through their elected representatives.”

NO MORE 62-YEAR-OLDS RETIRING: Macron authorized the use of a controversial constitutional maneuver last week to bypass a vote in parliament on his pensions reform bill. The French president wants to raise the legal age of retirement to 64 from 62, in an effort to balance the accounts of France’s indebted state pension system. POLITICO’s Clea Caulcutt has more.


NIGERIA’S OPPOSITION Labour Party candidate Peter Obi has filed a court petition challenging last month’s disputed presidential election, the party said, kicking off what could be a long legal campaign lasting several months. Reuters has more.

THAILAND LOOKS ON WITH UNEASE: Thailand this week dissolved parliament to pave the way for an election on May 14, in what will again be a trigger for power struggle between the military and the public-backed political movement. Nikkei Asia has a list of the candidates.


US OFFICIALS PLAN TRIP TO CHINA: A potential trip to China by Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo is in the works, according to National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby. Earlier plans by Secretary of State Antony Blinken to visit Beijing, derailed by the invading balloons, remain on the table, Kirby said.

TAIWAN PRESIDENT TO TRANSIT IN US: Tsai Ing-wen, the Taiwanese leader, confirmed plans to visit Central American allies Guatemala and Belize beginning on March 29. She will stop over in New York and Los Angeles — but her office wouldn’t confirm whether or not she plans to meet U.S. House Speaker Kevin McCarthy.


RYANAIR COMPLAINS: Europe’s top budget airline Ryanair wants the EU to force France to allow flights in its airspace when air traffic controllers are on strike — arguing that recent industrial action has disrupted travel for nearly 1 million passengers. Mari Eccles has more.

FANCY ANOTHER MIDDLE EAST CARRIER? Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman announced the launch of a new airline, Riyadh Air, over the weekend. The aim is to get a share of the lucrative market currently dominated by Emirates, Qatar Airways and Etihad. Riyadh Air is owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund and will be led by Tony Douglas, a former CEO of Etihad Airways, as CEO.

INDIA VS AIRLINES: Foreign airlines are piling pressure on Narendra Modi‘s government to ease a near-freeze on capacity that can be deployed on many routes to and from India, now that the country’s flag carrier Air India has been sold to the cash-rich Tata conglomerate. Here’s Reuters’ report.


Avi Mayer will be the new editor-in-chief of the Jerusalem Post.

Tareck El Aissami has stepped down as Venezuela’s powerful oil minister amid a corruption probe, the Financial Times reported.

Kamal Feki has been named Tunisia’s new interior minister, as per Al-jazeera.

Kara C. McDonald has been nominated as the next U.S. ambassador to Lithuania, among other White House announcements.

Ali Karami Ruiz is the new senior managing director for FTI Consulting. He’ll be based in Spain.

Daniel Rocha has been named partner at global advisory firm Qorvis, the first partner to be located in Brussels.


Pakistani women are not all right — how the country’s conservatives try to silence the annual march for women’s rights — by the New Yorker’s Mira Sethi.

How an Army of Elderly Influencers Took Over China’s Instagram, by Sixth Tone’s Fan Yiying.

The poison umbrella, an introduction to a new Danish film that sheds new light on an infamous Cold War killing, by Shaun Walker for the Guardian.

THANKS TO editor Sanya Khetani-Shah and producer Sophie Gardner.

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