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Putin showcases his ambitions in a Chinese city built by czarist Russia

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Russian President Vladimir Putin photographed while visiting a church in Harbin, China. PHOTO CREDIT: ALEXANDER RYUMIN/PRESS POOL

Wall Street Journal, May 2024

Russian leader Vladimir Putin embraced symbols of his country’s imperial past and the Russian Orthodox Church as he sought to underpin his rule and geopolitical ambitions during a visit to a Russian-built city in northeastern China. The Russian leader traveled to the city of Harbin Friday, a six-hour drive south of the Russian border, a day after receiving a warm welcome in Beijing from Chinese leader Xi Jinping. The two heads of state, whose tight relationship is often described as a diplomatic bromance, issued a joint statement of more than 7,000-words that emphasized their close ties and railed against the “hegemonic attempts of the United States to change the balance of power in Northeast Asia.” The second day of Putin’s trip focused on a mix of ideological and practical concerns as the Russian leader, coming off a rubber-stamp election victory in March, tries to claw back some of the country’s Soviet-era stature. 

Harbin was developed by czarist Russia starting in the late 19th century as it expanded railroads and influence across a region referred to at the time as Manchuria. Russia’s colonial sway was cast aside, first by the Japanese empire and then Mao’s revolution. But the city remains dotted with onion domes and Orthodox churches, some now converted to museums.

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