Xi said China would support Russia’s core interests during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit in Samarkand, Uzbekistan on Thursday.
Putin acknowledged China had questions and concerns about the situation in Ukraine, a surprise acknowledgement of friction with Beijing over the war after a week of Russian losses on the ground.
Putin also praised China’s leader for what he said was a “balanced” position on the conflict.
“We highly value the balanced position of our Chinese friends when it comes to the Ukraine crisis,” Putin told Xi at their first meeting since the war began.
“We understand your questions and concern about this. During today’s meeting, we will of course explain our position.”
Xi did not mention Ukraine in his public remarks, nor was it mentioned in a Chinese readout of their meeting, which took place in Uzbekistan on the sidelines of a regional summit.
Beijing’s support is widely seen as essential for Moscow, which needs markets for its energy exports and sources to import high tech goods as it faces sanctions imposed by the West.
The last time the two men met they signed a “no limits” friendship agreement between their two countries. Three weeks later, Russia invaded Ukraine. Since then, China has trod a careful line, criticising Western sanctions against Russia but stopping short of endorsing or assisting the military campaign.
Meanwhile in Kyiv, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen held talks with President Volodymyr Zelensky.
She told him Ukraine’s accession process to the European Union was well on track.
White House spokesman John Kirby said China should reject Russia’s invasion: “The whole world should be lined up against what Mr Putin is doing,” Kirby told CNN.
“This is not the time for any kind of business as usual with Mr Putin.”
After a week of the fastest Ukrainian gains since the war’s early weeks, Ukrainian officials said Russian forces were now fortifying defences and it would be hard for Kyiv’s troops to maintain the pace of their advance.
Putin has yet to publicly comment on the setback suffered by his forces.