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Mar 21, 2023
Xi Meets Russian Prime Minister After Long Chat With Putin
(Bloomberg) -- After two days of talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping, Vladimir Putin pledged even closer ties with Russia’s most powerful backer and hailed Beijing’s proposals for ending his war in Ukraine.
“Many of the provisions of the peace plan proposed by China are in line with Russian approaches and could be used as the basis for a resolution when Kyiv and the West are ready for it,” Putin said Tuesday in his most detailed comments yet on the blueprint, speaking in the Kremlin alongside Xi.
The US and its allies have rejected the Chinese initiative as biased toward Russia and Ukraine has also reacted cautiously. But the proposals are Beijing’s most ambitious effort yet to seek an end to the year-old war. Xi discussed them in detail in one-on-one talks Monday, Putin said.
Xi touted the close relationship between the two countries, signaling Beijing’s strong support for Russia amid efforts by the US and its allies to isolate Putin over his invasion of Ukraine. Xi invited Putin to make a return visit to China later this year, something Kremlin officials said was a possibility.
“Putin and Xi share a fundamental mistrust of the West and the US and in this, China supports Russia,” said Vita Spivak, non-resident scholar at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “But that doesn’t mean China supports the war in Ukraine. They see Russian foreign policy as unpredictable and chaotic and they just have to wait it out.”
John Kirby, a spokesman for the US National Security Council, tore into Xi for flying “all the way to Moscow” without yet speaking to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
“And he and his regime keeps parroting the Russian propaganda that this is somehow a war of the West on Russia, that it’s some sort of existential threat to Mr. Putin,” Kirby told reporters at the White House. “That’s just a bunch of malarkey. Ukraine posed no threat to anybody, let alone Russia.”
“Now look, if if he’s willing to talk to President Zelenskiy and willing to get the other side and, if any future potential negotiation can incorporate Ukrainian views and perspectives,” Kirby added, “then that’s something that that could be seen as impartial.”
Russia has become increasingly dependent on China for trade with other markets cut off, but there was little sign of new deals.
Putin hailed rising trade between the two countries and said he’d discussed the Power of Siberia 2 pipeline to carry more Russian gas to China but didn’t announce an agreement. “Almost all the parameters of this accord have been agreed,” he said, echoing his comments at a meeting last fall.
China is in no rush to commit to the new Siberian gas pipeline despite Russian appeals. Moscow is already committed to increase supplies and with access to its main markets in Europe largely cut off due to the invasion of Ukraine, Russia has little leverage to force a deal with China.
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine was the dominant backdrop of the talks, however. After the three-day visit to Moscow, Xi is expected to hold his first conversation since the invasion with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Putin and Xi agreed that “responsible dialog” is the solution to the “Ukraine crisis,” China’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement after the talks in Moscow.
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 cease-fire call that would freeze forces in current positions is a non-starter.
Neither side appears willing to negotiate seriously at the moment, however.
For Putin, Xi is by far the most significant international leader to visit since the 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 called for the court to avoid politicization.
The two sides discussed military cooperation, Kremlin aide Yuri Ushakov said, without providing details, according to Tass.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Tuesday that the alliance had seen “some signs” Russia had requested lethal aid from China for the war in Ukraine. So far, he said, “We haven’t seen any proof that China is delivering lethal weapons to Russia.”
China has said it’s not supplying weapons.
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 Organization, 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 Jennifer Jacobs.
(Updates with a Kirby quote, in eighth paragraph. An earlier version corrected a reference to China, in fourth paragraph.)
©2023 Bloomberg L.P.
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