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Mar 20, 2023
Xi Arrives in Moscow, Giving Putin Boost Amid Ukraine Invasion
(Bloomberg) -- Vladimir Putin said Russia is ready to discuss China’s initiative for ending the conflict in Ukraine, welcoming Chinese President Xi Jinping for a three-day visit that underlines Beijing’s support for Moscow.
“We’ve carefully studied your proposals to resolve the acute crisis in Ukraine,” Putin told Xi in televised comments at the start of their one-on-one talks in the Kremlin Monday. “We’ll discuss all these issues, including your initiative, which we of course view with respect.”
The trip to Moscow marks Xi’s most ambitious attempt yet to play the role of peacemaker as he seeks to broker an end to Russia’s war in Ukraine. Kyiv has been cool to Beijing’s plan, while the US and its allies have rejected it outright. After his talks in Moscow, Xi is expected to speak by video link with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, his first conversation since the start of the war with the Ukrainian leader.
In his comments to Putin, Xi didn’t mention the invasion and said there’s room for Russia and China to boost cooperation. “China highly values the relationship with Russia,” Xi said. “I am delighted to be in Russia as my first state visit after being reelected as the Chinese president.”
Xi also said he’s confident Putin will win the support of his people in next year’s presidential elections. That put the Kremlin in the slightly ticklish position of having to explain what he meant, since Putin hasn’t formally announced whether he will run for a fifth term next year.
Calling him “dear friend,” Putin thanked Xi for making time for Monday’s talks and dinner ahead of a second day of negotiations with other officials Tuesday. A state dinner is also scheduled.
This first and informal round of Kremlin talks between the two leaders lasted almost four and a half hours, the state-run Tass news service reported.
Putin and Xi “had an in-depth exchange of views on the Ukraine issue,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement on Tuesday. It added that “most countries support easing tensions,” but the ministry didn’t go into further details on the topic.
China would continue to strengthen strategic coordination with Russia, Xi also said, according to the statement.
For Putin, Xi is by far the most significant international leader to visit since the Feb. 24, 2022 invasion, which triggered Europe’s deadliest conflict since World War II and waves of sanctions by the US and its allies. Xi’s arrival comes just days after the International Criminal Court issued a warrant for Putin’s arrest on charges of war crimes. Russia has dismissed the move and China Monday called for the court to avoid politicization.
“The timing of the visit illustrates how little regard Xi holds for the ICC arrest warrant and how he is seeking to introduce a new international order on China’s terms,” said Kate Mallinson, founder of Prism Political Risk Management in London. “Xi regards the war in Ukraine as a part of a wider conflict with the US and is vaunting the fact that China alone holds the keys to solve the war.”
Ahead of the visit, Putin and Xi published articles in each other’s state newspapers praising bilateral ties. Xi called his trip “a journey of friendship, cooperation and peace” while Putin called the Russia-China relationship “the cornerstone of regional and global stability.” Xi said his position on a settlement of the war in Ukraine “reflects the broadest common understanding of the international community on the crisis.”
China’s cease-fire paper has little detail and largely consists of broader foreign policy positions long espoused by Beijing. While its embrace of the principle of territorial integrity won praise in Kyiv, which seeks to drive Russian forces back across the border, a call for freezing forces in current positions is a non-starter.
China and Russia need to boost two-way trade, foster more convergence of interests and areas of cooperation, as well as raise both the quality and quantity of investment and economic cooperation and step up policy coordination, according to the article by Xi carried by Xinhua News Agency Monday.
The Chinese leader last visited Russia in mid-2019, while Putin went to Beijing in early 2022 to attend the opening of the Winter Olympics. At that meeting the two leaders agreed to a “no-limits” friendship and signed a series of long-term energy supply deals.
The two met in September last year at a meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Forum, where Putin said he understands Beijing’s “questions and concerns” about his invasion of Ukraine, a rare admission of tensions between the diplomatic allies.
--With assistance from Foster Wong.
(Updates with statement from China’s Foreign Ministry.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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