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As Russia unleashes war on one neighbour, its ties to another are also in the spotlight.

Russia has few friends left on the world stage, but in recent years it has grown closer to China, even occasionally holding joint military exercises.

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, with Chinese Xi Jinping. Credit:PA

Since the start of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine last month, China has refused to condemn Russia and has continued to trade with it as other nations impose sanctions. And just weeks before the invasion, Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping sealed an “unbreakable new friendship” with a historic joint statement against NATO expansion.

It was reported that Beijing had asked the Kremlin to suspend the invasion until after the Winter Olympics. And, as we reported this morning, US officials quoted by media say Russia has asked China for military aid.

Former Australian diplomat in Moscow Bobo Lo recounts age and The Sydney Morning Herald that the Sino-Russian relationship is important to both nations (while China’s rise has now eclipsed Russia as a superpower, the Chinese “know what a disruptive neighbor Russia can be”).

But Dr Lo also says that “Xi and Putin are not, as many people imagine, closely related.”

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In fact, Dr. Lo thinks “Russia is proving to be an extremely embarrassing friend to China right now.” The superpower is torn between backing its ally and distancing itself from an attack on another nation’s sovereignty.

Many experts have compared Russia’s attention to Ukraine to China’s efforts to reclaim Taiwan. Both served as proving grounds for attacks – and hotbeds of conflict with the West.

But Dr Lo says Russia’s decision to go all-in against Ukraine does not mean China is moments away from launching an assault on Taiwan. Although he says the unprecedented Western response will most likely give China pause.

“What the Chinese were expecting, like the Europeans I think, was a quick [Russian] victory. Instead, the longer this conflict lasts, the worse the humanitarian crisis gets, so the Chinese will have to look at each other carefully and ask themselves, “Do we really want to be associated with this?”

You can read more about Dr Lo’s analysis and what experts consider Putin’s likely endgame in Ukraine in my explainer with Chris Zappone here.

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