Xi-Putin meeting: China’s Xi stresses close ties with ‘dear friend’ Putin in first visit to Russia since Ukraine invasion


Xi Jinping and Vladimir Putin met in the Kremlin to talk about the close ties and strategic visions shared by China and Russia, on the first day of a state visit framed by Beijing as a peace plan, despite deep misgivings in Kiev and the West.

Xi is making his first move since Moscow launched its unprovoked invasion of Ukraine last year, days after the International Criminal Court in The Hague accused the Russian president of committing war crimes in Ukraine and issued an arrest warrant for him.

Ukraine is expected to be a major talking point throughout Xi’s visit, which will draw close attention to the potential impact on an entrenched conflict that has killed tens of thousands of people and sparked a massive humanitarian crisis.

“Over the past few years, China has made a huge leap forward,” Putin told Xi, sitting side by side with him in the Kremlin on Monday afternoon. “All over the world, it arouses curiosity, and unfortunately even envy.”

Calling Putin his “dear friend,” Xi said, “Russia’s development has improved significantly under your leadership.”

China has described the visit as a “journey of friendship, cooperation and peace” amid Beijing’s push to be a key supporter of a resolution to the conflict. But Xi’s visit could be seen in some Western capitals as a ringing endorsement by the Russian leader in the face of broad international condemnation of his war.

Top US diplomat Antony Blinken said the visit showed China’s intention to provide “diplomatic protection” for alleged Russian atrocities in Ukraine.

“Days after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for President Putin, President Xi is traveling to Russia, saying that China has no responsibility to hold the Kremlin responsible for atrocities in Ukraine, and that instead of condemning them, it is delivering,” Blinken said at a news conference at the US State Department on the release of the 2022 Human Rights Statement. Diplomatic cover for Russia to continue those crimes.

During the publicized portion of Monday’s meeting, Putin once again told Xi that he was “always open to the negotiation process” despite his repeated refusal to engage with Kyiv on withdrawal from Ukrainian land.

“We have carefully studied your proposals for resolving the acute crisis in Ukraine,” Putin told Xi.

“Of course, we will have an opportunity to discuss this issue. We know that you are based on the principles of justice and commitment to the fundamental points of international law,” Putin said. “We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiative.”

Western leaders have expressed doubts about China’s potential role as a peacemaker and its neutrality. Instead, the US and its allies have warned since last month that China is considering sending dangerous aid to Russia for its war efforts, which Beijing has denied.

Kyiv is also expected to be watching the proceedings closely, and on Monday reiterated that any plan for peace must begin with a Russian withdrawal from its territory.

“We expect Beijing to use its influence in Moscow to end the war of aggression against Ukraine,” Ukrainian Foreign Ministry spokesman Oleg Nikolenko told CNN on Monday.

“Restoring Ukraine’s territorial integrity must be at the center of every diplomatic effort,” he said. “We are ready to engage in close dialogue with China to restore peace in Ukraine in accordance with the UN Charter and the recent UNGA resolution on the matter.”

Xi’s visit comes days after the ICC made Putin a wanted person in the 123 countries that recognize the court, deepening the Russian leader’s isolation from the West as he continues a bloody and costly war in Ukraine.

The Chinese leader was expected to meet Putin on Monday afternoon local time. He was greeted upon his arrival at Vnukovo Airport near Moscow by Dmitry Chernyshenko, one of Russia’s 10 deputy prime ministers, and a Russian military band, but Putin did not attend the meet-and-greet.

Russian media later showed Xi’s motorcade driving through the city ahead of three days of meetings in which he is expected to present a framework for ending the conflict that has received a lukewarm reception from the West.

China has recently sought to rehabilitate its image, portraying itself as a proponent of peace and defending its relationship with Russia as good for global stability. Last month, Beijing issued a vaguely worded position statement on a “political solution” to the conflict in Ukraine.

Following the announcement of Xi’s visit to Moscow on Friday, the White House expressed concern about possible plans by China that are “one-sided and reflect only the Russian perspective.”

For example, a proposal for a cease-fire — which China has repeatedly called for — would give Russia a way to regroup before retaliating, said John Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council.

On Monday, after Xi arrived in Moscow, US Secretary of State Blinken said “elements” of China’s peace proposal for the war were in line with efforts Washington supports.

“China’s proposal includes elements we have long supported, including the first elements of ensuring nuclear security, addressing the humanitarian crisis, protecting civilians and upholding the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of all regions,” Blinken said.

But, he said, “any call for a cease-fire that does not include the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively support the assertion of a Russian victory” because it would “allow President Putin to rest, redeploy his forces, and then resume the war. At a time more favorable to Russia.”

“The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, backed by China or any other country, to freeze war on its own terms,” ​​Blinken said.

The visit is expected to provide a platform for both countries to further deepen their close strategic alignment, which includes diplomatic coordination, joint military exercises and robust trade.

In a statement issued after Xi landed on Monday, the Chinese leader said: “In the face of a turbulent and changing world, China is ready to continue working with Russia to firmly safeguard the international order.”

Both Putin and Xi publicized the “new impetus” their meeting would bring to their bilateral relationship in private letters to each other in state-run media ahead of the visit.

Both also used the letters to denounce “hegemony” — a reference to their shared intent to push back against what they see as the US-led world order.

Xi should tread carefully during his trip to Moscow. What is at stake for the Chinese leader is whether he can strengthen ties with an ally that China sees as crucial to countering US hegemony, without alienating Europe, which is increasingly wary of Sino-Russian relations.

Chinese President Xi Jinping celebrated his 66th birthday with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Tajik capital of Dushanbe in 2019.

Putin launched his invasion days after he and Xi announced a “no limits” partnership last February.

Since then, China has claimed neutrality but supported Kremlin rhetoric that blamed NATO for the conflict, refused to condemn the invasion, and continued to support Moscow financially by significantly increasing purchases of Russian fuel.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has publicly expressed interest in discussing the conflict with Xi in the past, although contact between the two countries has not reached higher than Ukraine’s ministerial level since the war began.

Ukrainian, Chinese and US officials all declined to confirm a possible virtual meeting between Zelensky and Xi last week, following a Wall Street Journal report that the two planned to speak for the first time since Xi’s then-possible trip to Moscow.

By contrast, this week’s state visit marks the 40th meeting between Putin and Xi since the Chinese leader took office in 2012.

The personal chemistry between the two authoritarian leaders is widely seen as a key driver of tightening ties between the countries in recent years – and will be closely examined during the visit.

Past meetings between the leaders have demonstrated that rapprochement, with photos including Putin offering Xi ice cream on his 66th birthday during a meeting in Tajikistan in 2019 and the two cooking Russian pancakes on the sidelines of a forum in Vladivostok. In 2018.

The two last met in person during the Shanghai Cooperation Organization summit last September, part of Xi’s first overseas trip after nearly three years of travel during the pandemic.

Putin, who referred to Xi as his “good old friend” in his letter published on Chinese state media on Monday, is expected to use the meeting domestically as proof that Russia is not isolated on the world stage.

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