Russian President Vladimir Putin warmly welcomed Chinese leader Xi Jinping to the Kremlin on Monday, sending a powerful message to Western leaders that their efforts to isolate Moscow over the fighting in Ukraine have fallen short.
Xi's trip — his first abroad since his re-election earlier this month — showed off Beijing's new diplomatic swagger and gave a political lift to Putin just days after an international arrest warrant was issued for the Kremlin leader on war crimes charges related to Ukraine.
The two major powers have described Xi’s three-day trip as an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship.” China looks to Russia as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy, and as a partner in standing up to what both see as US aggression, domination of global affairs and unfair punishment for their human rights records.
The two countries, among the five UN Security Council's permanent members, also have held joint military drills. US officials have picked up indications China is considering supplying Russia with weapons for its fight in Ukraine but have seen no evidence they’ve actually done so.
The leaders smiled and shook hands before sitting down at the start of their meeting, calling each other “dear friend” and exchanging compliments. Putin congratulated Xi on his re-election and voiced hope for building even stronger ties.
“China has made a colossal leap ahead in its development in recent years,” Putin said, adding that “it’s causing genuine interest all around the world, and we even feel a bit envious,” as Xi smiled.
The Kremlin leader welcomed China’s proposals for a political settlement in Ukraine and noted Russia is open for talks.
“We will discuss all those issues, including your initiative that we highly respect,” Putin said. “Our cooperation in the international arena undoubtedly helps strengthen the basic principles of the global order and multipolarity.”
Both Moscow and Beijing have accused Washington of trying to isolate them and hold back their development as they challenge it for regional and global leadership.
In an increasingly multipolar world, the US and its allies have been unable to build a broad front against Putin. While 141 countries condemned Moscow in a United Nations vote marking the first anniversary of Russian troops rolling into Ukraine, several members of the G-20 — including India, China and South Africa — abstained. Many African nations also have refrained from openly criticising Russia.
"We hope that the strategic partnership between China and Russia will on the one hand uphold international fairness and justice, and on the other hand promote the common prosperity and development of our countries,” Xi said.
In their 4 1/2 hours of talks, along with a dinner that included a Pacific seafood platter and roast venison in cherry sauce, Putin would offer Xi a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine, according to Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov. Broader talks on a range of subjects are scheduled Tuesday.
For Putin, Xi’s presence is a prestigious, diplomatic boost to show partnership in the face of Western efforts to isolate Russia over Ukraine.
In an article published in the Chinese People’s Daily newspaper, Putin described Xi’s visit as a “landmark event” that “reaffirms the special nature of the Russia-China partnership” and said the meeting signalled that the two countries aren't prepared to accept attempts to weaken them.
“The US policy of simultaneously deterring Russia and China, as well as all those who do not bend to the American diktat, is getting ever fiercer and more aggressive,” he wrote.
China portrays Xi’s visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about its purpose, though Foreign Ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin told reporters Monday that China “will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.” Xi didn't directly mention the Ukraine fighting or his peace plan when he sat down for the talks with Putin.
Beijing’s leap into Ukraine issues follows its recent success in brokering talks between Iran and its chief Middle Eastern rival, Saudi Arabia, which agreed to restore their diplomatic ties after years of tensions.
Following that success, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
Although they boast of a “no-limits” partnership, Beijing has conducted a China First policy. It has refrained from supplying Russia’s military — a move that could worsen relations with Washington and turn important European trade partners against China. On the other hand, it has refused to condemn Moscow’s aggression and criticised Western sanctions against Moscow, while accusing NATO and the United States of provoking Putin’s military action.
Western pressure has made Russia increasingly reliant on Beijing, observers said.
Alexander Gabuev, a senior fellow at the Carnegie Endowment, noted that Beijing is aiming at “getting Russia as a junior partner deeper into China's pocket.”
Dmitry Oreshkin, professor at Free University in Riga, Latvia, observed that Beijing benefits from tensions between Moscow and the West, by gaining access to cheap Russian energy resources. “It’s very convenient for China, which couldn't get such a discount before,” he said.
China last month called for a cease-fire and peace talks. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy cautiously welcomed Beijing’s involvement, but the overture fizzled.
US warns on Putin's true motives
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby urged Xi “to press President Putin directly on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.” He also said the U.S. administration believes Xi could play “a constructive role” by speaking directly with Zelenskyy.
The Kremlin has welcomed China’s peace plan, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said Monday any proposal that left Russian forces in place in Ukraine would merely let Moscow reequip and otherwise regain strength to resume its offensive.
“Calling for a cease-fire that does not include the removal of Russian forces from Ukrainian territory would effectively be supporting the ratification of Russian conquest,” he told reporters in Washington. “The world should not be fooled by any tactical move by Russia, supported by China or any other country, to freeze the war on its own terms.”
Kyiv officials say they won’t bend in their terms for a peace accord.
Ukraine's allies, meanwhile, are stepping up their support. The State Department announced Monday that the US will send Ukraine $350 million in weapons and equipment. The latest aid package includes ammunition, such as rockets for the High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems, fuel tanker trucks and riverine boats.
In Brussels, European Union countries endorsed a fast-track procedure to provide Ukraine with artillery shells, EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said. He hailed “a historic decision” for the 27-nation bloc and Norway to send Ukraine 1 million 155 mm artillery shells within 12 months.
Xi’s trip came after the International Criminal Court in The Hague announced Friday it wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
The Kremlin doesn't recognise the court's authority and has rejected its move against Putin as “legally null and void.” China, the US and Ukraine also don't recognise the ICC, but the decision tarnished Putin's international standing.
China’s Foreign Ministry urged the ICC to “respect the jurisdictional immunity” of a head of state and “avoid politicisation and double standards.”
Russia’s Investigative Committee retaliated Monday by opening a criminal case against a prosecutor and three judges of the ICC over the arrest warrants issued for Putin and his commissioner for children’s rights, Maria Lvova-Belova. The committee called the ICC’s prosecution “unlawful” because it was, among other things, a “criminal prosecution of a knowingly innocent person.”
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