Putin Hosts Xi At Kremlin With China’s Proposal On Ukraine War On Agenda
By RFE RL
(RFE/RL) — Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, called each other “dear friend” and exchanged compliments at the Kremlin after Xi arrived for his first visit to Russia in four years amid Moscow’s deepening international isolation over its invasion of Ukraine.
Putin and Xi smiled and shook hands before making brief statements at the start of their meeting on March 20, which kicks off a three-day visit that the two countries say is an opportunity to deepen their “no-limits friendship” and rebuff what they say is Washington’s attempt to isolate them and hold back their development.
The meetings with Xi, who arrived earlier on March 20, gives a rare opportunity to President Vladimir Putin to claim that Russia is not completely walled off from the rest of the world despite his being targeted by an arrest warrant issued by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes.
“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 as he and Putin began their meeting.
The meeting ended after more than four hours, including a dinner at which Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that Putin would likely offer Xi a “detailed explanation” of Moscow’s actions in Ukraine. Broader talks between Russian and Chinese officials on a range of subjects are scheduled to take place on March 21, he added.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby told reporters in Washington that Xi and Putin seem to be connected in “a bit of a marriage of convenience” rather than one of affection.
“These are two countries that have long chafed at U.S. leadership around the world,” he said.
The White House remains concerned that China might provide lethal weapons to Russia, Kirby said. He also said Washington encouraged Xi to press Putin directly “on the need to respect Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity” and said Xi should speak with Ukrainian President Volodomyr Zelenskiy about the impact of the war on Ukraine.
Xi’s visit comes just weeks after China announced a proposal for a political settlement in Ukraine that Western countries said echoes Russian talking points, including blaming the West for the unprovoked invasion. The Chinese plan called for a cease-fire and peace talks among other provisions.
Putin, speaking at the start of the meeting, welcomed China’s plan.
“We are always open to negotiations,” Putin told Xi. “We will certainly discuss all these issues, including your initiatives which we treat with respect, of course.”
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken voiced skepticism over the proposal, warning that it could be a “stalling tactic” to help Russia on the ground in Ukraine.
“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,” Blinken told reporters at the U.S. State Department.
Blinken also denounced Xi’s visit, saying the timing showed Beijing was providing Moscow with “diplomatic cover” to commit further crimes.
In an article published on March 20 in the Russian publication Russian Gazette, Xi said that China has remained “impartial” and “actively promoted peace talks” but presented no clear proposals in regard to its peace plan.
Ahead of the visit, Putin touted his relationship with Xi and boasted that Moscow-Beijing relations had never been stronger.
In a March 19 article for The People’s Daily, the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Party, Putin tried to portray Russia and China as close allies united against U.S. hegemony and NATO expansion, including into the Asia-Pacific region.
Putin papered over his unprovoked invasion of Ukraine that has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of people, falsely referring to it toward the end of the article as a domestic “crisis” provoked and fueled by NATO.
In his article, Putin thanked Xi for his “balanced” position on the war and said he was open to China playing a role in bringing it to an end.
Putin has tried to justify his war of aggression against Ukraine on various grounds, including claiming NATO expansion was a threat. In an attempt to connect their respective security concerns, Putin warned that NATO was a threat to China as well.
In a statement published in Russian media ahead of the visit, Xi made only a thinly veiled mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, saying that “there has been an all-round escalation of the Ukraine crisis.”
While noting that China had made “several proposals” on ending the conflict, Xi said that “there is no simple solution to a complex issue” and that both parties need to “embrace” a common vision to resolve the crisis.
Putin and Xi have met about 40 times in various capacities over the past 13 years.
Putin described the Russian-Chinese partnership as one of equals, saying there is no “leader and follower.” However, many experts say that China, the world’s second-largest economy and a quickly growing military power, is the clear senior partner in the relationship.
China’s senior status within the relationship is only growing as Russia’s economy suffers under the weight of Western sanctions, deepening the Kremlin’s reliance on Beijing for trade, experts say.
China has become a crucial transit route for Russia to import goods banned by the West.
Economic ties, including Russian energy exports to China, will be another key topic of talks.