Presidents Xi and Putin meet in Uzbekistan and give hints about the future of Sino-Russia relations

Presidents Xi and Putin meet in Uzbekistan and give hints about the future of Sino-Russia relations

Argentina formally applies to join the BRICS

Hi there Intriguer. A hotel in Bangkok has broken the record for mixing up the largest ever Negroni. The giant cocktail was made with 630 litres of gin, Campari and sweet red vermouth in a custom-built tub of ice. If, like us, you’re licking your lips at the prospect, just know that the hotel will be bottling and distributing the entire concoction over the next few months… so perhaps drop the Bangkok Kimpton a line?

Today’s briefing is a ~5.5 min read:

  • 🤝 The Xi-Putin meeting: subtle signs of something bigger?
  • ➕ Plus: Argentina sends its formal BRICS membership bid, Denmark charges its intelligence chief officer, and France dispels rumours about its energy exports to Italy.

Our take: Three stories are making most front pages across the world: the Queen’s funeral, the Russo-Ukraine War, and UN General Assembly in New York during which many world leaders will meet in person for the first time in three years.


Xi-Putin meeting reveals… not a lot

In brief:

  • Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping met in person for the first time since the start of the Russo-Ukraine War.
  • Putin acknowledged the “questions and concerns” his Chinese counterpart had raised about the war, but we should be wary about interpreting his comments as a fracture in Sino-Russian relations.

President Putin walks behind his new boss during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit held in Uzbekistan last week. Credits: Sergei Bobylev, Sputnik, Kremlin Pool Photo via AP.

The reunion

Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in Uzbekistan last Thursday on the sidelines of the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) Summit to reiterate their “no limits” partnership.

With the world’s eyes trained on the two leaders, the summit had the energy of a twenty-year high school reunion: “Omg did you hear they’re low-key fighting lately? Just look at their body language… wait, did Xi just smirk? Not for nothing, but the years haven’t been kind to Vlad, have they?

The meeting

The Xi-Putin meeting was the first face-to-face meeting between the Chinese and Russian leaders since Russia invaded Ukraine.

  • Like veteran performers, Xi and Putin played the hits, including calling for a new “just, democratic and multipolar world order” with a strong Russia-China partnership at its centre.

However, during Putin’s speech, Western analysts picked up on a comment suggesting things between Beijing and Moscow aren’t quite as harmonious as the two countries might have us believe.

  • Addressing President Xi Jinping, Putin stated:We highly appreciate the balanced position of our Chinese friends in connection with the Ukrainian crisis. We understand your questions and concerns in this regard.”

Putin’s no good, very bad summit

That Putin admitted to such “concerns” is notable. Analyst Bakhti Nishanov explains:

“This SCO meeting has been a disaster for Putin: got openly chided by Modi, had to publicly explain himself to Xi, was kept waiting in front of cameras (a power move he’d pull on other leaders) by Japarov, Erdogan and Modi. Everyone smelled blood and treated him accordingly.”

Many China watchers think Beijing is less than pleased by Russia’s invasion, if only because it appears to have gone so poorly for Moscow:

  • Beijing has refused to publicly help Moscow militarily or economically, and Chinese companies are wary of doing business with Russia for fear of secondary sanctions.

The future of Sino-Russian relations

It’s worth noting that China’s ‘disapproval’ hasn’t stopped it from indulging in a cheeky barrel or two of cheap Urals oil. Shannon Tiezzi, Editor-in-Chief at The Diplomat, notes that China isn’t likely to break with Russia:

“Ultimately, Russia is simply too important to China as an ally against the U.S. for Beijing to offer even tepid criticism. Instead, China is trying – to very limited success – to erect a firewall between its relationship with Russia and Putin’s war in Ukraine.”

💰 Is Russia now a Chinese tributary state? With Europe swearing off Russian oil for good, China is one of the few alternative markets for Moscow.

  • That means if Xi plays his cards right, China will get access to not only cheap oil but also the geopolitical leverage that comes from being Russia’s most important customer.

Further, by offering mild displays of dissatisfaction with Moscow, China is betting it can continue to buy Russian oil without unduly angering the West (and risking sanctions).

As friend of Intrigue Jacob Shapiro put it: “I say again: Congrats to Vladimir Putin for Russia’s transformation from Great Power to Chinese Petrol Station.”

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🇩🇰 Denmark

The Danish state prosecutor announced last Friday that it had charged the head of Denmark’s foreign intelligence agency with leaking highly classified information.

  • Lars Findsen, the former Danish spy chief, has been accused of passing state secrets to six people, including two journalists.
  • While the actual charges have not been made public, rumours suggest the leaked information referred to a secret surveillance agreement between Denmark and the US National Security Agency.

🇫🇷 France

France has denied reports that it had warned Italy of a potential halt in energy exports and reaffirmed its commitment to facing Europe’s energy crisis in “solidarity” with its neighbours.

  • Italian newspaper La Repubblica first reported that French-state-controlled energy company EDF was halting energy exports to Italy for two years as part of France’s energy-saving scheme.
  • This winter will be a make-or-break moment for European solidarity: the EU’s reaction to the ongoing energy crisis will have profound consequences beyond its borders.

🇩🇪 Germany

The German government has effectively nationalised the German operations of Russian oil giant Rosneft.

  • The move will allow authorities to operate Rosneft’s German refineries using non-Russian oil and restore the plants’ production to full capacity after months of disrupted service.
  • Rosneft labelled Berlin’s move as illegal and threatened to take legal action.

🇭🇺 Hungary

The EU is pondering whether to withhold €7.5B in EU cohesion funds from Hungary over corruption concerns.

  • A new EU mechanism passed earlier this year allows Brussels to sanction member states that are violating core EU values, a powerful tool to get misbehaving governments in line.
  • The Council now has one month to decide whether to act on the Commission’s recommendation, but Hungary has signalled willingness to enact several remedial measures to avoid being frozen out.

🇪🇺 The EU

Four environmental NGOs are suing the European Commission for including fossil gas in its list of sustainable energy investments.

  • Earlier this year, the EU included fossil gas in its green finance taxonomy, a controversial decision designed to shelter the industry from losing investment.
  • It isn’t the only loophole the Europeans employ when it comes to carbon reduction; this informative Twitter thread highlights how accounting tricks are used to make carbon-intensive processes seem as green as St Patrick’s Day in Dublin.

Adding Argentinian BRICS to the wall

The news: Argentina has formally applied to become a member of the BRICS group, a multilateral organisation formed by Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa.

  • Argentina’s accession has been in limbo for more than a decade, but things started getting serious earlier this year after the country was invited to attend the 2022 BRICS summit.

(We’ll just ask what we’re all wondering… does the grouping become… BRICAS? ABRICS? Who do we need to join for it to become BRIC-A-BRAC?)

Why it matters: Russia and China are keen to show the world that there are real alternatives to the US-led financial order, and Argentina would be a strong addition to the group. As Wilson Centre Global Fellow Jorge Heine points out:

“The natural and human riches of Argentina are such that, no matter how much it stumbles, there will always be foreign investors willing to bankroll it. Thus, […] the real question is which way Argentina will tilt as U.S.-China tensions increase and Buenos Aires is squeezed from both sides.”

 A win-win situation: Becoming a BRICS member would benefit Argentina, too:

  • Buenos Aires is probably hoping to increase its geopolitical clout and gain access to new lines of credit from the New Development Bank, a BRICS-established financial institution.

The other hopefuls: Besides Argentina, several more countries are waiting in line to join the exclusive club, including Iran, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Egypt.


Hispanic Heritage Month

It’s Hispanic Heritage Month in the US, and we’re happy to give you a few extra ways to celebrate (and learn about) Hispanic culture.

  • 📖 First things first, a handy background on the difference between the terms Latinx and Hispanic.
  • 🎥 Mija is a Disney original documentary about the two daughters of undocumented immigrants
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