Xi and Putin Join the ‘Awkward Hugs Between World Leaders’ Club

Mikhail Metzel/Reuters
Mikhail Metzel/Reuters

Russian President Vladimir Putin, who’s historically averse to physical touch, embraced the Chinese leader Xi Jinping in a pair of awkward hugs on Friday as the two met at a northeastern China university renowned for its military defense research.

The seemingly uncomfortable—and slightly robotic—embrace appeared to have been initiated by Xi, who could be seen mouthing something while raising both of his arms to welcome in a hesitant Putin. Xi was then seen patting the Russian president’s side, followed by Putin initiating a handshake as they pulled away from each other.

Awkward hugs aside, the willingness of Putin to leave Moscow for a meeting with Xi in China underscores the pair’s growing alliance—something that’s sure to worry Western leaders.

The two leaders met in Harbin, a Chinese city with Russian roots, and were said to have discussed their economic and military ties. It also sent a message that the two autocrats weren’t just strategic partners but also share a personal connection.

It was a rare meeting for Putin, who has largely been holed up in Moscow amid his ongoing military campaign in Ukraine. With his military actions having been disavowed by much of the world, including by the U.S., he’s found few friends outside of Asia and European nations still strongly under Russia’s sphere of influence.

A day before their pair of hugs, Chinese state media captured Putin and Xi walking and talking together with their neckties off on Thursday, strolling under willow trees and sipping tea at a traditional pavilion in Beijing.

Other awkward exchanges between world leaders

Putin and Xi are not alone when it comes to awkward interactions over the years between world leaders.

When Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi met then U.S. President Donald Trump in 2017, he decided not just to shake his hand but to give him a big bear hug as well.

Giving Modi a run for his money in the awkward greetings stakes is John Kerry, who in 2015 gave then French President Francois Hollande all the greetings at once.

George W. Bush managed to get a two-for-one during a 2006 G8 summit of world leaders, giving then German Chancellor Angela Merkel a shoulder rub that she clearly did not enjoy, and then later winking at Putin.

Who could forget the 19-second handshake between Trump and Shinzo Abe that left the Japanese prime minister visibly uncomfortable?

However, George H.W. Bush vomiting on Japanese Prime Minister Miyazawa Kiichi in 1992 after being hit with a stomach bug may be the most uncomfortable of all.

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