China’s president Xi Jinping today landed in Moscow where he is set to meet Vladimir Putin in a show of support for the leader after the International Criminal Court (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for him over war crimes.
The Chinese leader said his first state visit to Russia since Putin invaded Ukraine would aid bilateral ties between the two nations.
‘I am confident the visit will be fruitful and give new momentum to the healthy and stable development of Chinese-Russian relations,’ Xi told journalists at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport where he was met by stern-faced honour guards. He described Russia and China as ‘good neighbours’ and ‘reliable partners’.
Xi is expected to present China as a global peacemaker intent on brokering an end to the Ukraine war – a move that has been met with scepticism in Kyiv and the West, with world leaders questioning the real motive behind Beijing’s plan for peace.
China has not offered any concrete proposals to end the war other than a 12-point ‘peace plan’ which included calling for an end to Western sanctions, negotiations that would see Ukraine ceding territory, a NATO pull-back from its eastern borders and reconstruction efforts that are likely to benefit Chinese contractors.
And despite its calls for peace, Beijing has continued to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia and parroted the Kremlin’s talking points about NATO expansionism.
China’s President Xi Jinping today landed in Moscow where he is set to meet Vladimir Putin in a show of support for the isolated Russian despot after the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant for him over war crimes in Ukraine
China’s President Xi Jinping, accompanied by Russian deputy prime minister Dmitry Chernyshenko, walks past honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport
Xi is set to meet Putin (pictured together in September) in Moscow today
Xi landing at Vnukovo airport ahead of meeting with Putin
A car of a motorcade transporting members of the Chinese delegation, including President Xi, in Moscow today
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Meanwhile, Putin will attempt to present Xi’s trip – the first world leader to visit since the ICC charged the Russian leader with war crimes – as evidence that Russia has a powerful friend prepared to stand with it against a hostile West.
The Chinese government said Xi would visit Moscow from today until Wednesday.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said that over dinner tonight, Putin and Xi will touch on issues related to Ukraine, adding that Russia’s president will likely offer a ‘detailed explanation’ of Moscow’s view on the current situation.
Broader talks involving officials from both countries on a range of subjects are scheduled for tomorrow, according to Peskov.
For Putin, Xi’s presence at the Kremlin is a prestige visit and a diplomatic triumph, allowing him to tell Western leaders allied with Ukraine that their efforts to isolate him have fallen short.
Xi’s trip comes just days after the ICC in The Hague announced it wants to put Putin on trial for the abductions of thousands of children from Ukraine.
Indeed, despite its calls for peace, China has continued to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Russia. It looks to the country as a source of oil and gas for its energy-hungry economy and as a partner in opposing what both see as American domination of global affairs.
Beijing has portrayed Xi’s visit as part of normal diplomatic exchanges and has offered little detail about what the trip aims to accomplish, though the nearly 13 months of war in Ukraine cast a long shadow on the talks.
At a daily briefing in Beijing today, foreign ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said Xi’s trip was a ‘journey of friendship, cooperation and peace’.
On the war, he said: ‘China will uphold its objective and fair position on the Ukrainian crisis and play a constructive role in promoting peace talks.”
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.
Flushed with that success, Xi called for China to play a bigger role in managing global affairs.
‘President Xi will have an in-depth exchange of views with President Putin on bilateral relations and major international and regional issues of common concern,’ Wenbin said.
He added that Xi aims to ‘promote strategic coordination and practical cooperation between the two countries and inject new impetus into the development of bilateral relations’.
Today’s meeting gives Putin and Xi a chance to show they have ‘powerful partners’ at a time of strained relations with Washington, said Joseph Torigian, an expert in Chinese-Russian relations at American University in Washington.
‘China can signal that it could even do more to help Russia, and that if relations with the United States continue to deteriorate, they could do a lot more to enable Russia and help Russia in its war against Ukraine,’ Mr Torigian said.
Xi walks past honour guards during a welcoming ceremony at Moscow’s Vnukovo airport today
A motorcade transporting members of the Chinese delegation today
In an article published at the beginning of his visit to Moscow, Xi said China’s 12 point peace plan, which was released last month, reflects global views and seeks to neutralise consequences, but acknowledged that solutions are not easy.
Ukrainian servicemen fire an artillery called M777 howitzer cannon aiming to Russian positions in the frontline nearby Bakhmut in Chasiv Yar, Ukraine on March 18
‘Complex problems do not have simple solutions,’ said Xi.
Ukraine and its Western backers would be likely to dismiss any attempt to secure a ceasefire as little more than a ploy to buy Putin time to reinforce, and delay a widely expected Ukrainian counter-offensive.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has said he will only consider peace settlements after Russian troops leave Ukrainian territory.
China’s proposal contains only general statements and no concrete proposal on how to end the year-long war in which tens of thousands of people have been killed, cities have been destroyed and millions forced to flee.
In an article for a Chinese newspaper, published on the Kremlin website, Putin said he had high hopes for the visit by his ‘good old friend’ Xi, with whom he signed a ‘no limits’ strategic partnership last year. He also welcomed China’s willingness to mediate.
‘We are grateful for the balanced line… in connection with the events taking place in Ukraine, for understanding their background and true causes. We welcome China’s willingness to play a constructive role in resolving the crisis,’ Putin said.
The United States and its allies are deeply sceptical of China’s motives, noting it has declined to condemn Russia and provided it with an economic lifeline as other countries heap sanctions on it.
The United States and NATO have recently accused China of considering supplying arms to Russia and warned it against doing so. China has dismissed the accusations.
Some commentators have pointed to a possible parallel between Russia’s claims to Ukrainian territory and Beijing’s claim to Taiwan.
The Communist Party said the self-ruled island democracy, which split with China in 1949 after a civil war, is obliged to unite with the mainland, by force if necessary. Xi’s government has been stepping up efforts to intimidate the island by flying fighter jets nearby and firing missiles into the sea.
Ukrainian soldiers fire at the frontline near Bakhmut, Donetsk region, Ukraine, on Saturday
Governments that recognise the court’s jurisdiction would be obligated to arrest Putin if he visits.
He has yet to comment on the announcement, but the Kremlin rejected the move as ‘outrageous and unacceptable’.
In a show of defiance, Putin over the weekend visited Crimea and the occupied Ukrainian port city of Mariupol to mark the ninth anniversary of Russia’s seizure of the Crimean peninsula.
Russian news reports showed him chatting with residents and visiting an art school and a children’s centre in Sevastopol in Crimea.
For Ukraine, Xi’s visit to Moscow will be met with apprehension as Kyiv fears China may ultimately decide to supply its strategic ally with arms, influencing the outcome of the war.
‘Ukraine’s expectations are at a minimum level: for things not to deteriorate,’ Sergiy Solodky, first deputy director of New Europe Center think-tank in Kyiv, said.
The topic is so sensitive that Ukrainian authorities do not wish to comment publicly on the trip, during which Putin and Xi are supposed to meet at least twice.
‘Ukraine will follow this visit closely,’ a senior Ukrainian official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
‘For us it is critically important that China maintains its policy of unwavering respect for the territorial integrity of other countries,’ the source said, in reference to how Russia has claimed the annexation of five Ukrainian regions.
Justice ministers from around the world will meet in London today to discuss support for the ICC after it issued an arrest warrant for Putin.
‘We are gathering in London today united by one cause: to hold war criminals to account for the atrocities committed in Ukraine during this unjust, unprovoked and unlawful invasion,’ British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab said.
Several European Union countries will sign an agreement in Brussels today to buy 155 mm artillery shells for Ukraine, with the first orders possibly placed by the end of May.
Ukraine has identified the supply of the shells as critical, with both sides firing thousands of rounds every day.
Fierce fighting continued in the eastern town of Bakhmut with each side launching counter offensives. Ukrainian forces have held out in Bakhmut since last summer in the longest and bloodiest battle of the war.
Giving its regular morning roundup from the front, Ukraine’s military said defenders in Bakhmut, Lyman, Ivanivske, Bohdanivka and Hryhorivka – all towns in the Donetsk region – had repelled 69 Russian attacks in the past day. Bakhmut remains the epicentre of hostilities, it said.
It also said that Russian forces were on the defensive in the Kherson and Zaporizhzhia regions to the south.
Russia’s Wagner mercenary group, which is spearheading the assault on Bakhmut and has suffered heavy losses, plans to recruit some 30,000 new fighters by the middle of May, its founder Yevgeny Prigozhin said on Saturday.
In January, the United States assessed that Wagner had about 50,000 fighters in Ukraine, including 40,000 convicts Prigozhin had recruited from Russian prisons with a promise of a pardon if they survived six months.
Ukrainian officials have said that some 30,000 of Wagner’s fighters have deserted or been killed or wounded, a figure that could not be independently verified.