Brought to you by Newscorp Australia

Are Putin and Xi taking Russia and China down similar paths, asks cartoonist Mark Knight

Mark Knight, February 24, 2022 6:00PM Kids News

Print Article

Mark Knight’s cartoon highlights the similar leadership styles and ambitions of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping. media_cameraMark Knight’s cartoon highlights the similar leadership styles and ambitions of Russian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping.


Reading level: red

It seems utterly bewildering that as the world still battles with the tail end of the coronavirus pandemic, we are now at risk of plunging into a war in Europe.

Russian leader Vladimir Putin seems to be making good on his threats to take back part or all of Ukraine.

Ukraine was once part of Russia, or the USSR (Union of Soviet Socialist Republics) as it was called back in its days as a communist country. In 1991 the USSR disintegrated* and the various republics went their own way, one of which was the Ukraine.

media_cameraRussian president Vladimir Putin addresses his people on February 21, amid an increase of violence in the long-running conflict between Ukrainian troops and pro-Russian rebels in the eastern Ukrainian territories of Luhansk and Donetsk.

Putin’s style of leadership is autocratic*. Some see him as a modern tsar* of Russia. He rules the country single-handedly and with an iron fist*. His great ambition is to reunite Ukraine with the mother country* and restore its borders back to those during the communist era. He also doesn’t want to see Ukraine join NATO* and get too close to the West*. So he has sent troops in to take it back.

I have drawn cartoons about Russia and its leaders for over 40 years. It seems I will be drawing quite a few more in the ensuing* weeks!

Putin is a leader who likes to portray himself as a tough guy. He is photographed hunting with his rifle, swimming with dolphins and perhaps his strangest series of pictures: riding a horse through the mountains without a shirt on. He is great material for cartoonists!

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin rides a horse during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in Southern Siberia 03 Aug 2009. media_cameraA bare chested Russian president, Vladimir Putin, famously rides a horse during his vacation outside the town of Kyzyl in Southern Siberia in 2009. Picture: AFP

When I was thinking about drawing a cartoon on Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, I had thoughts about the other “strongman’ of international politics, Communist China’s president Xi Jinping. He, like Putin, rules in an autocratic style and has put China on an aggressive footing and, again like his Russian counterpart*, has invaded neighbouring countries like Tibet.

He doesn’t take his shirt off thankfully, but he does want to reunite China with one part of it that went its own way. President Xi wants Taiwan back. Like Putin, he has threatened to take it back.

How similar these two leaders are both in style and ambition, I thought. Maybe I could combine these two issues into one cartoon? But how?

media_cameraRussian president Vladimir Putin and Chinese president Xi Jinping pose for a photograph during a meeting in Beijing on February 4, 2022. Picture: AFP

I thought about that weird picture of Putin on horseback, shirtless. It is very symbolic of his macho* leadership style.

I started to sketch him riding his horse towards Ukraine. Then I rubbed out the horse and for more effect I drew him riding a huge, snarling Russian bear. A much more intimidating image!

I added president Xi riding alongside. The cuddly panda is synonymous* with China, so I had him mounted on a huge panda. Far from cuddly, this one looks rather sinister*.

This image of the two leaders astride these massive wild animals, shirtless, chests out, summed up their leadership style.

Now I needed to illustrate their ambition. So I added a road sign. One sign points the way to Ukraine, the other to Taiwan.

Putin gives Xi a wink. He is on his way to Ukraine.

The cartoon poses the question about whether his counterpart is on his way to Taiwan?


  • disintegrated: broke up into small pieces
  • autocratic: having total control in the hands of one leader
  • tsar: Russian word for ruler or emperor. It refers to the time when Russia was ruled by a royal family
  • iron fist: in a very strict, ruthless way
  • mother country: the country where someone was born or their ancestors were from, in this case Russia
  • NATO: stands for the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation, which is a group of countries that joined together after World War II to provide peace and security for its members
  • West: countries that are allies (or friends) of the US and NATO members
  • ensuing: happening after something
  • counterpart: person who does the same job but in a different place
  • macho: behaving in a way that is thought to be typical of a man, especially by showing power and strength
  • synonymous: to have a well known link to something
  • sinister: evil, threatening


What is happening between Ukraine and Russia?

China cuts video gaming for kids


  1. What was Russia called back in its communist days?
  2. Which country did Russia send troops into this week?
  3. Why did Mark Knight draw Putin on a bear?
  4. Why did Mark Knight draw Xi on a panda?
  5. What did Mark Knight use to illustrate the ambition of these two leaders?


1. What happens next?
Imagine this cartoon is part of a story that is made up of three cartoons. The three cartoons tell a complete story, and Mark Knight’s cartoon is the start of the story.

Think about what the story could be and draw the next two cartoons that tell the story.

Time: allow 30 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Visual Arts, Visual Communication Design, Critical and Creative Thinking

2. Extension
To be a great cartoonist, being able to draw is only one of the skills that you need. Write a list of all of the other skills that you think cartoonists like Mark Knight need to do their job.

Next to each skill, write a sentence that explains why that skill is important or helps them to do a great job.

Time: allow at least 20 minutes to complete this activity
Curriculum Links: English, Personal and Social Capability, Media Arts, Visual Communication Design

Stretch your sentence
Find a “who” in the cartoon – a person or animal. Write it down.

Add three adjectives to describe them better.

Now add a verb to your list. What are they doing?

Add an adverb about how they are doing the action.

Using all the words listed, create one descriptive sentence.

Extra Reading in humanities